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Robert M. O'Neil Appointed AAUP General Counsel

May 13, 2010

Washington, D.C. — The AAUP is pleased to announce the appointment of Robert M. O’Neil as the Association’s general counsel for 2010–12. The appointment takes effect on July 1, 2010.

As general counsel, O’Neil will work closely with the AAUP’s legal staff to pursue the Association’s legal activities, which include advising faculty, administrators, lawyers, and others on higher education legal issues; preparing amicus briefs; monitoring legal developments in higher education around the country; and keeping the Association apprised of new and emerging legal issues that may have implications in areas such as labor and employment law, freedom of expression, and intellectual property rights.

O’Neil is the founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and a former president of the University of Virginia as well as the University of Wisconsin system. He is an expert on academic freedom and the author of several books, including The Rights of Public Employees (second edition, 1993), Classrooms in the Crossfire (1981), and Free Speech in the College Community (1997), The First Amendment and Civil Liability (2001), and Academic Freedom in the Wired World (2007) as well as many articles in law reviews and other journals.

“In myriad ways, from persistently probing abuses of academic freedom to asserting professorial rights in the courts to effectively representing faculty interests through collective bargaining and establishing major policies to enhance due process and fairness in academic governance, AAUP has been an uncompromising champion of professorial freedoms,” O’Neil says. “Anyone who has served the Association as I have for nearly a half century has seen it evolve in countless ways, while maintaining a constant and compelling presence in the academy. I am delighted to continue my long association with the AAUP."

O’Neil has served the AAUP in various capacities, including as chair of Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and as chair of special committees on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans Universities, National Security in Time of Crisis, and Academic Freedom after Garcetti v. Ceballos. He has served two previous terms (1970–72 and 1990–92) as general counsel.

“Bob O’Neil lends enormous prestige to the office of general counsel and to any action taken in association with his name,” said AAUP president Cary Nelson.  “Bob is quite simply one of the most distinguished legal scholars in the country. He is also immensely thoughtful and kind and a great person with whom to work. Few can equal Bob’s unending and exceptional devotion to the AAUP.” 

After serving as law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., O’Neil began his teaching career in 1963 at the University of California Law School at Berkeley, where he chaired the Academic Senate Committee on Academic Freedom.

His administrative career began as provost of the University of Cincinnati in the early 1970s. He was vice president of Indiana University for the Bloomington campus, and later president of the statewide University of Wisconsin before coming to the University of Virginia. He taught law at each institution.

In 1990 he chaired the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, serving also on the executive committee of the Association of American Universities, and during the 1980s and 90s served on the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Educational Testing Service, and the Johnson Foundation.

For the past five years, O’Neil has been director of the Ford Foundation's Difficult Dialogues Initiative. He also serves on the board of consulting editors of Trusteeship, the journal of the Association of Governing Boards. He recently served as a trustee or director of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association (TIAA), the Fort James Corp., the Commonwealth Fund, the Media Institute, and on the editorial board of the American Bar Association’s Human Rights Journal. He chaired the boards of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and WVPT Public Television. He is a member of the national advisory board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Commenting on the prospect of working closely with O’Neil, AAUP senior counsel Rachel Levinson said, “I am thrilled that Bob O’Neil will be working with us as general counsel. His knowledge of legal issues in higher education is unmatched, and his dedication to the principles of the AAUP is second to none. I have already had the pleasure of working with him closely on matters related to First Amendment academic freedom, and I look forward to a productive partnership in the years ahead.”

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, shared governance and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has over 48,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Media Contact: 
Legal Office
Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 13, 2010