The Catholic University of America

Craig Parker, general counsel and associate vice president for government and community relations, was profiled in the Legal Times. See the story below.



On the Record: Craig Parker

From: Legal Times
Date: May 21, 2007
Author: Diego M. Radzinschi

Craig Parker has been general counsel for Catholic University of America since 1987. He calls himself a "lifer" with the university.

Can you talk a little bit about the university?

We have 11 schools at the university that function just like any other graduate research university. We also have programs that give ecclesiastical degrees in theology, philosophy, and canon law. It's one of the premier schools in the world for canon law and philosophy. But the rest of the place is like any other university, and we have outstanding programs, for example, in architecture, music, social work, glass-state physics, and psychology.

Catholic University is unique among Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. Where others were founded by a particular religious order, we are the only ones not founded by a particular order. We are a flagship of the hierarchal Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican has a flagship school in every major Catholic country around the world. We are a pontifical university, because we have a special charter from the Vatican. To me, it's kind of an interesting opportunity. When we look at something like expansion of our programs in study abroad, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest trans-national organization in the world. There are Catholic charities all over the world doing a tremendous amount of social service work. So we have, in effect, sister campuses all around the world with which we share the same values and the same mission.

It's a neat mission. My current boss is a Vincentian priest, the Rev. David M. O'Connell. In his inaugural address he stood up in the basilica on our campus and pointed east to the University of Maryland. He said: "What we do is try to be a university that's also Catholic. If we didn't have the Catholic part, there's a perfectly good school down the road."

Anything else special about the religious part of the university?

We do have a unique responsibility to remember that we represent the values of the Roman Catholic Church and that we're perceived by a lot of people as being a special place. Sometimes it feels like other Catholic schools can "get away with" more things than we can as to speakers or activities, in the sense that we're always in a national spotlight and held to the highest standard.

In some ways, we are the crucible in which First Amendment values and religious rights get worked out. Our tag line is "reason, faith, service." We see ourselves as a place whose job is to provide a first-rate education in the context of religious faith and to try to bring faith and reason together. How do you expose students to different political agendas and still keep faith in the foreground?

Tell us about your legal department.

We are a small legal department. Thirty years ago, it was rare to have a full-time in-house counsel. Catholic started one on a part-time basis in 1979 when Steven Frankino was hired as the new dean of the law school and part-time in-house counsel.

I came to law school at Catholic in 1974 and worked fulltime while I was in law school. After I graduated, I was hired by Dean Frankino as an assistant dean and part-time assistant general counsel. He left the university in 1987 and I've been doing this full-time since then. I have two associate counsels, Kathryn Bender and Margaret O'Donnell, who've been with me for 17 years and 12 years and work almost like co-general counsels. We've got a lot of longevity here. And we've had the opportunity to develop the function the way we thought was appropriate.

How has the legal work changed over the years?

Initially, we used a traditional approach, just passively managing the external legal affairs. Our high-water mark on that was 12 years ago, when we had, combined, slightly more than 30 matters in court or before a federal or state agency. For a small employer, that's a lot. At that point we decided to take a big stab at the preventive law approach. That was when our third attorney was hired to do nothing except work with me on the preventive approach. The inspiration came in part from professor William Kaplin of our own law school, who writes the bible of higher-education law. He talks about the importance of trying to develop a preventive law approach, to do things that raise the awareness of legal issues with key managers.

The theory is simple: Catholic University is a small institution, and there are probably 50 managers who make all the decisions that might get us in trouble. If I can get to those people, make them aware of the legal issues, and they feel comfortable enough to contact our office early on, then that allows us to reduce our external legal complaints. Last year we got down to zero. Well, we had one slip-and-fall complaint pop up this winter.

Our work has also changed because in 1996, when Web technology was just coming into play, we started to put information on a Web page, counsel.cua.edu. There are more than 200 federal laws applicable to higher education; we're probably one of the most regulated industries in the country.

We have environmental rules; financial and tax rules; all the employment and nondiscrimination rules; intellectual property regulation in patents, copyright, and computers; and lots of research regulation. It takes only a tiny amount of radioactive stuff to create a mountain of regulatory burdens. And there are
a whole bunch of rules unique to higher education, financial aid stuff, campus security, student records, Title IX, and student accommodations.

One of the other neat things that happened is that the Web site has become a national resource in higher education. And we were recently asked by the U.S. Department of Education to make recommendations to improve the federal regulatory process, and they incorporated our recommendations in their final report. Father O'Connell gets all the credit for giving us a lot of freedom and the support to maintain this free Web site.

That's a lot of work.

You give it a shot. My basic thesis about federal regulation is that when you look at the underlying goals, they're all good goals, they're just a bit heavy-handed sometimes in how they try to achieve them. We need to work at achieving those goals. Privacy, wrongful discrimination, campus safety-they're all important goals. Campuses are better off than they were before these regulations, but the regulatory burden on schools is pretty heavy.

And as the litigation stuff has gone down, Father O'Connell has given me responsibility for other things, including community and government relations as well as the university's policy process. When you're a lifer, it's very interesting to have those changes occur and your job evolve.

My goals are to provide great service, have a positive impact, and have fun-and I'm having a blast, particularly with our outreach to campus managers and to do some things that are social activities. Our legal assistant, Peggy Haney, orchestrates our events, including "Pie Day," where we invite many of our managers. We're all pretty good bakers in the office and we have about 40 pies and about 100 people. The legal staff does some kind of musical entertainment, a spoof of some kind. This year we had the Blues Lawyers, and before that, The Village People. One year, we made up a group, a '60s girls group, and we called it Sugar Daddy and the Tortlettes. I was Sugar Daddy. My kids will not let me forget it.

What are some of your hot legal issues?

One of the hottest issues is information, in the copyright area and also regarding information security and confidentiality of student, parent, and employee information. We're doing an awful lot of work to meet the new standards recently promulgated in the credit card industry. If we want to use credit cards to pay tuition or receive donations, there is a lot of work that has to be done to comply.

Also, there's been a little bit of resurgence of campus activism. We saw it recently at the University of Maryland, and other campuses are seeing more, too.

We have some issues that are more unique. Over time, I've been surprised at the level of effort needed to protect the right of a religiously affiliated institution to be different. There is a lot of pressure from others to want to make religious schools look like everyone else.

In what way?

On issues like resident life, student health insurance, and employee benefits, where church-related schools have different views. We've had what I think is improper government interference in internal hiring and labor decisions, and our view has been sustained in the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia and in other federal courts, but not without a lot of work. That's one of the reasons we participate in quite a few amicus curiae briefs on selected national higher education issues.

What outside firms do you use?

I hire almost strictly by the quality of the person. As it happens, a number are in big firms. For taxes, we have Thomas Roha, one of the top nonprofit tax lawyers in town. About once every three or four years, we have a messy probate dispute, and we use Michael Curtin, the premier probate guy in town. We use Allison Prince at Pillsbury Winthrop for zoning work; Eileen Heitzler at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe for bonds; and David Blake at Seyfarth Shaw for construction. We use Mark Goldberg and Dawn Starr at Akin Gump for labor, and for property development work we use Michael Goodwin at Arnold & Porter. I use Eric Hirschhorn at Winston & Strawn for problems with a prosecutor on the other side. And I use Marty Michaelson at Hogan & Hartson as my higher-education-law rabbi. A big one, our litigation guy for 25 years, was Jim Sarsfield but just about the time that our caseload got down to zero, he was appointed a judge in the Maryland court system. So my best friend from high school, William Gandy, is a partner at Wilson Elser and is now overseeing our litigation.

What's your background?

I've spent almost all my career at Catholic. I was an undergraduate journalism major at the University of Kansas [and] worked briefly as a reporter for two papers that have since gone out of business. When I came to law school, I had the idea of going back to journalism, so I really came into law practice backwards.

Where would we find you outside the office?

My kids are grown, and one of my favorite things is traveling with my wife to see them. The youngest is teaching community college in New Orleans. The middle is an associate producer at Henninger Media here in Arlington [Va.], a Catholic University graduate. And our oldest son went into the Marines and stayed in for the Iraq invasion. When he got out, he went to school, and he graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., May 7. He's going to be an English teacher.

I also do woodworking, although I'm not highly skilled. I can create simple colonial, Shaker-type stuff. I tend to work with soft wood like pine, because it's very forgiving.

Read any good books lately?

I'm kind of a slow reader, but I'm always reading something. I'm more than halfway through The Great Deluge, by Douglas Brinkley. My daughter went to Tulane and she had to leave after Katrina, though she's now back in New Orleans. I've been down both before and after the flood. I've been intending to read this book, which is stunning and an absolute indictment of the federal government response to Katrina.

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