New top attorney talks to SACUA

By Peter Shahin, Daily News Editor
Published February 4, 2013

At Monday’s meeting of the University’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, members heard from the University’s new general counsel, Timothy Lynch. SACUA members questioned him on a variety of legal issues that faculty commonly face as well as more complex compliance and reporting issues, including the child abuse scandal that rocked Pennsylvania State University.

Lynch assumed his role as the University’s chief lawyer on Jan. 7 following the resignation of Suellyn Scarnecchia in May. During his legal career, Lynch worked as an associate with Washington-based Shea & Gardner, an assistant U.S. attorney, an assistant chief litigation counsel with the U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commission and, most recently, as the deputy general counsel for U.S. Department of Energy.

No stranger to academia, he has also taught at the University of Virginia School of Law and the Georgetown University Law Center. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Rochester and his law degree at Georgetown.

During his question-and-answer session with SACUA, Lynch was cautious with his words — careful not to speak too specifically about hypothetical situations. The University has traditionally not allowed its legal representatives to speak on the record to the media because of concerns about how their statements could affect future legal proceedings.

Among the first questions was to whom Lynch belives he ultimately answers to as an executive officer of the University — a theme that popped up throughout the meeting. Faculty members, including Biology Prof. John Lehman asked how Lynch would deal with conflicts between the University’s Board of Regents and executive officers like University President Mary Sue Coleman.

“The constitution gives regents power over the University,” Lynch said. “My goal here is to represent Mary Sue, the executive officers (and) the University regents … I have a very broad and diverse portfolio.”

Lynch was also asked about how he would use faculty input to form policies that would affect staffing at the University. He responded that expertise of the lawyers in his office provided much of what he needed but added that he was always open to additional input from the general faculty body.

“In terms of faculty input, I hope my faculty committee will give me good, solid advice,” Lynch said. “If there are issues where you want a faculty voice known to the general counsel’s office, I’d invite you to come by, and I’d be happy to chat with you.”

One of the main topics of discussion was the University’s compliance efforts. The faculty members particularly focused their discussions on how the school would handle reporting an issue like the sex scandal at Penn State. Members faulted internal bureaucracy for both the Penn State case and for the child pornography case at University Hospital last year.

“A big part of our job in the counsel’s office is compliance. Having been on the other side of the aisle here, there is a high expectation on the part of government agencies," he said.

Lynch added that the University would immediately contact law enforcement authorities if they believed an issue warranted further investigation.

After Lynch’s presentation, SACUA members briefly discussed an upcoming faculty poll as well as the impending reapportionment of representation for each of the constituent colleges of the University. The University’s library system is expected to gain one representative because of the reclassification of librarians as staff while another college is expected to lose a representative to compensate. A future survey will determine what college will lose a seat.