U’s general counsel spot still in flux

New General Counsel William Donohue is set to serve for only two years.

General Counsel William Donohue at the McNamara Alumni Center Office of the General Counsel on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Donohue replaced Mark Rotenberg, who stepped down this summer after more than 20 years in the position.

Ichigo Takikawa

General Counsel William Donohue at the McNamara Alumni Center Office of the General Counsel on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Donohue replaced Mark Rotenberg, who stepped down this summer after more than 20 years in the position.

Meghan Holden

It’s unclear who the University of Minnesota’s top lawyer will be in two years.

William Donohue replaced long-standing General Counsel Mark Rotenberg in the spring, but it’s unclear how long he’ll serve in the position.

After serving as a top litigator at the University for more than 30 years, Donohue was appointed to lead the Office of the General Counsel in May for a two-year fixed term. Rotenberg stepped down after more than two decades as the University’s top lawyer.

Tracy Smith, who was appointed deputy general counsel when Donohue was promoted, said his leadership is what the OGC needs during the changeover.

President Eric Kaler offered Donohue an interim position shortly after Rotenberg’s resignation and soon after appointed him to the University’s general counsel for a
two-year term.

“I think it’s a smart thing for him to have done,” Donohue said. “He was worried about stability on the senior staff, and I have been here forever. I am the rock of stability.”

If Donohue, 65, chooses not to retire when his contract expires in June 2015, there’s a possibility he could continue in the position pending Kaler’s approval, said University Chief of Staff Amy Phenix.

Phenix said Donohue’s experience as deputy general counsel for the past 23 years and his commitment to the University would provide stability for the OGC during its transition in leadership.

“We’ve had significant leadership turnover on Kaler’s senior leadership team, and [Donohue] is somebody who comes with deep, deep institutional knowledge,”
Phenix said.

Two-thirds of the senior leaders at the University have held their position for less than three years, according to an email Kaler sent to University faculty and staff in May.

It’s not uncommon for the University administrators to hold fixed terms, Phenix said.

For example, Aaron Friedman began a three-year fixed term as the University’s Medical School Dean and Academic Health Center Vice President in 2011. His term will end in January.

A search committee for Donohue’s position hasn’t been appointed, Phenix said. The search will likely take three to six months, and there are no set dates for when it will begin,
she said.

Donohue said a fixed term is in the best interest of all parties.

“We developed what I think is a real high-quality law office. We think we’re in the top of general counsel offices in higher education,” he said.