Lawyer grounds self with teaching

Aidan M. Anderson

Residing in the Office of General Counsel within the finished hardwood, marble and glass of the McNamara Alumni Center, this space is far different from room 319 in Morrill Hall where the office’s No. 2 man spent the first 16 years of his University career.

Deputy General Counsel Bill Donohue said he enjoys the alumni center space, but didn’t mind his old office “in the heart of the beast,” closer to students, faculty and staff members.

Donohue has worked as a lawyer at the University for more than 20 years. He teaches, has spent time in the Peace Corps, considered a career in journalism and volunteer-coached his then-teenage son’s baseball team in the early 1990s.

Donohue has moved up the ladder since first arriving at the University in 1982, and has done it in ways varying from arguing cases in the courtroom as an associate attorney to guiding the Office of the General Counsel’s administration and coordinating all the University’s legal actions. He also oversees the University’s Athletic Compliance Office.

His dedication to the job revolves around the University faculty he works for, he said.

“They are uniformly smart, well motivated and interested in the best welfare of the University,” he said.

Every other year, he teaches a graduate course in higher education law in the College of Education. Teaching keeps him connected to and challenged by the students, he said.

“Teaching is fun and interesting,” he said. “It allows you to remain grounded in what the University is all about.”

Donohue spent one year at Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1966 before transferring to Carleton College in Northfield. His Benilde-St. Margaret’s high school English teacher, a Carleton alumnus, influenced the decision.

“He was cool,” he said. “And I thought if he was cool and went to Carleton, then it must be a good place.”

While there, Donohue befriended and roomed with Joe Nathan, now a University professor at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs’ Center for School Change.

“I liked him,” Nathan said with a laugh. “I’m not sure if he liked me, but I liked him.”

During their senior year, the two took the Law School Admission Test with aspirations of helping to “build a more just society,” Nathan said.

They’re still friends. Nathan said he is thankful he has someone like Donohue to help “keep him out of trouble” when it comes to his department’s legal questions.

Their working relationship reflects their past as college roommates.

“Joe calls Bill, and Bill calls Joe back,” Nathan said. “That’s what it is. Very informal.”

Neither ended up in law school directly after graduation.

Nathan began teaching at an alternative high school in Minneapolis and Donohue joined the Peace Corps, spending six months in India.

“They had me artificially inseminating dairy cattle,” Donohue said. “They selected me for that because I was from Minnesota. Of course, I’d never lived on a farm or done anything like that.”

“It was an eye-opening experience,” he said.

When Donohue became ill in India he and was sent home. He then then decided to take a shot at law school because of his prior success in academia.

He was accepted by the University’s Law School. He chose Minnesota because it was his home and the University offered him a scholarship.

“I couldn’t imagine anyone actually paying me to go to school,” he said. “What a good thing, I thought.”

He clerked at the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office during law school and graduated in 1974.

Donohue started out as a lawyer for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and moved to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office five years later.