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D ebra Zumwalt stepped into a morass of legal controversy when she became acting general counsel at Stanford University.

As she settled into her new role in February 2000, Stanford was in the midst of a wrestling match with the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors over the university’s proposed 10-year general use permit for development.

At the same time, the school was — and still is — embroiled in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor over allegations of systemic gender bias. At stake is nothing less than the $500 million in federal funding Stanford receives each year, which accounts for approximately 28 percent of its budget. In her nearly two-year tenure, Zumwalt has ably resolved some major legal challenges for the university. Along the way, she has preserved the legacy of her predecessor, the respected Michael Roster, but is leaving her own stamp. While she says she loves her job, she says she still has pangs for her courtroom days as a litigator.

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