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Name and title: Beth A. Harris, vice president and general counsel Age: 52 The university: The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 by the American Baptist Education Society and oilman John D. Rockefeller, whose dream was to merge an American-style undergraduate liberal arts college with a German-influenced graduate research institution. Today the university consists of an undergraduate college, four graduate divisions and six professional schools, and is connected with the Yerkes Observatory, the Adler Planetarium, the Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago Press, the University of Chicago Hospitals and the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. The institution installed the first woman president of a major research university, spawned the first Heisman Trophy winner in football and boasts 70 Nobel Prize winners, including author Saul Bellow, nuclear-age pioneer Enrico Fermi, economist Milton Friedman and education giant John Dewey. It has 13,000 students, 12,000 employees and faculty and an endowment of $3.5 billion. Higher education specialist: Harris, who is the senior female officer of the university, views herself as a specialist in higher education law, “one of the few remaining general practices in the law business.” As chief legal counsel she advises the president and board on governance, research oversight, technology and patent matters, and assists in the formulation of university policy. She also has legal oversight of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, an independent entity running from nursery school through 12th grade, and handles some legal matters for the University of Chicago Press. The University of Chicago Hospitals has its own legal office, but its physicians and the medical school are part of the university and, as such, under Harris’ umbrella. The legal office confronts student, faculty and employee issues as they arise, although Harris experiences “mercifully few” promotion cases. Real estate is on her plate, including acquisitions, building, leasing, zoning and architectural matters. Along with the research office, she delves into grants and endowments, sometimes encountering grant-related issues of scientific misconduct, biosafety regulations and research on human subjects. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act doesn’t apply directly to the university, but Harris spends a lot of time on “things that capture its spirit,” among them Internal Revenue Service regulations governing tax-exempt institutions. Regulation regimen: Harris said that “you can hardly find an agency of the federal government that doesn’t touch us.” The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation are two major sources of grants. The GC also interacts with the U.S. Department of Education and encounters “a modest level of state oversight.” For the past 60 years, the university has managed the Argonne National Laboratory under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy, which announced recently that it would now require competitive bidding on all such contracts. In a “major undertaking,” Harris and her colleagues are working on the proposal process to keep the lab, at an estimated cost of $5 million. Changes in job: Intellectual property is now “very much more of an issue” for the university, which established an in-house unit to manage it that Harris advises. She also noted an increasing volume of litigation, citing an “idiosyncratic, but interesting,” lawsuit that the school is currently facing (along with similar actions filed against Harvard University and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art). Families of victims of Hamas, alleging Iranian sponsorship of the terrorist group, seek possession of Iranian assets in the United States. They claim that ancient Persian tablets housed in the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute should be recoverable property used to satisfy judgments against the Iranian government. Harris asserted that “higher education has been more a focus of government scrutiny in the last several years,” and spoke of an erosion in the autonomy once enjoyed by colleges and universities. She stated that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the enactment of the USA Patriot Act of 2001, the balance between national security and freedom of expression has shifted, “and we fight that battle in many different contexts.” Other problems arise from more broadly interpreted export-control regulations, potentially stifling the employment of foreign-born researchers, and a general reduction in foreign-born students. Tuition increases are now scrutinized more as well. Legal team and outside counsel: The general counsel presides over “an incredibly talented group” of four lawyers, plus a “half-time attorney,” all of whom she hired. She is proud that so small a staff capably handles the diverse and complex range of issues faced by her school. The legal office tries to do as much work in-house as possible, with litigation and patent work generally being farmed out. Harris hires individual lawyers for particular matters, mostly from Chicago firms, and frequently calls upon higher education law specialists Babbitt & Melton. She also seeks the counsel of her academic counterparts as “there is something very specialized about the nature of the problems that we see that law firms don’t have any regular experience with.” Harris reports to President Don Michael Randel. Route to the top: Harris, who “started out intending to be an academic,” is the holder of multiple degrees: a bachelor’s in human development from the University of Chicago (1974), a master’s in psychology from the University of Houston (1978) and a J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law (1980). Following law school, she practiced corporate and securities law for five years, then embarked on a nine-year stint in the legal office of the University of Chicago Hospitals. In 1995, “returning to my roots after a foray into the corporate world,” Harris was named associate general counsel of the university itself. She attained her present status in 2001. Personal: New York-born Harris and her husband Duncan are the parents of Jennifer, 15, Andrew, 13, and Katherine, 9. Both daughters are dancers, and Harris is the president of the Hyde Park School of Ballet. The family enjoys skiing and sailing vacations. Last book and movie: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, and De-Lovely. -Roger Adler

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