College Appoints Matthew Lahey as Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary


Courtesy of Matthew Lahey

The College announced the hiring of Matthew Lahey as Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary in January.

The College announced the appointment of the new Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Matthew D. Lahey on Jan. 11. At Oberlin, Lahey will be responsible for a number of Oberlin’s legal needs, in addition to overseeing the restructuring of the Board of Trustees bylaws and supporting the implementation of One Oberlin. Lahey’s appointment has sparked controversy among Oberlin alumni, faculty, and staff and who are concerned about a LinkedIn profile that included “union avoidance” among his skills.

Following the creation of the Office of the Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary in 2008, the general counsel was placed in charge of organizing board meeting agendas, arranging briefing packets, and keeping the board informed of goings-on around campus along with the President, among other functions. Already, Lahey is organizing the board meeting scheduled for March 4, in addition to his work on the ongoing revision of the board bylaws.

“The Board of Trustees said to the faculty early on that they were gonna be looking at their bylaws over the course of the next year,” President Carmen Twillie Ambar said. “They’re having discussions with the General Faculty Council about that. So the secretary to the Board of Trustees is the person who kind of makes those meetings happen, sits with the General Faculty Council and others to think about what those potential changes may be.”

As a member of the College’s senior administration, Lahey will also play a role in the future of One Oberlin, providing legal advice to deans and other administrators directly responsible for executing the plan.

Lahey joins Oberlin’s leadership team after eight years at the University of Notre Dame, where he served both as associate general counsel and, for the last three years, as concurrent professor of law. While he specialized in labor law, his career highlights include work in diversity, equity, and inclusion and serving on faculty.

“[Matt] had a real breadth of experience around all the types of issues that I think come before the general counsel’s office, particularly around employment law, around diversity and inclusion issues, around policies and processes that institutions have to think through,” President Ambar said. “I was really impressed with some of the work that he had done around diversity and his work to try to build more diverse applicant pools.”

Now into his fourth week at Oberlin, Lahey has identified the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity as the project he is most excited to support. During his time at Notre Dame, Lahey worked to design and implement more inclusive hiring practices and has already set his agenda for similar work at Oberlin.

“At Notre Dame I was a faculty member in the law school where I taught employment discrimination law in addition to labor law,” he said. “Understanding the history of our civil rights laws has been important to me. And I was able to bring some of the passion that I’ve got for that area of law to the work that I did at my former institution, specifically related to the importance of greater representation of people of color among faculty. And for my former institution that was the case as well. So trying to create a process that was legally compliant, but really drove that important goal forward. Notre Dame was able to track the results and see the improvement over time in relation to faculty hiring and staff hiring, which was really gratifying to go from concept to implementation to start to see results.”

Lahey’s appointment has, however, raised concerns among alumni groups after finding Lahey’s LinkedIn page which includes “union avoidance” as a skill. Although Lahey wasn’t a part of the original decision making, some alumni believe this represents a growing anti-union trend in Oberlin following the outsourcing of the United Auto Workers union employees in the spring of 2020. Peter Miller, OC ’84, is particularly concerned about the hire after the outsourcing of UAW workers in spring 2020.

“Word got out that the school had appointed a new general counsel, and the general counsel was proudly anti- union and listed on his LinkedIn profile among his skills that he was skilled in union avoidance and union avoidance training,” Miller said. “The idea that President Ambar and [the] Board of Trustees would’ve chosen this person as the general counsel, the school’s lead lawyer, seems impossible to separate from the horrific recent history the school had with its labor relations.”

On Feb. 3, the four labor unions representing Oberlin’s various employees — AAUP, OCOPE, Security, and UAW — submitted a letter containing additional concerns about Lahey to President Ambar. These concerns stem specifically from Lahey’s personal bio which list “plant relocations and reductions in force; mergers and acquisitions; strikes and picketing; and employment agreements and restrictive covenants” as areas of experience. The letter argues that Lahey’s appointment represents an increasingly negative shift in the College’s attitude towards employees in general, citing the Board’s refusal to adopt AAUP regulations for faculty governance in times of financial exigency, and the imminent negotiations with OCOPE. The Review has obtained this letter and it can be accessed here.

In response to these concerns Lahey emphasized the breadth of his work with labor law, including working with labor organizations to achieve common goals. Lahey believes he should be evaluated on the entirety of his record rather than a list on LinkedIn. Additionally, he explains that simply looking at a lawyer’s work with a firm doesn’t reflect that individual’s true nature.

“I think what is important is the work that I’ve done, which is represented in my description,” he said. “In my labor work representing companies, I’m proud of the work that I did in the labor space. Negotiating collective bargaining agreements and working with labor organizations to achieve collective goals. … I think the characterization of union avoidance is not an accurate representation of the actual labor work that I’ve done in representing companies. The other thing that I’ll point out, is that when I was on the faculty at Notre Dame, I taught labor law. It was something that was incredibly important to me, because I took the responsibility of helping bring labor law to students and helping shape perspectives — I took that seriously. I was very proud that I presented labor law in a very open and unbiased, neutral way.”