Twenty-nine years and thousands of legal matters later, University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson will depart her post at the end of August.
Robinson, who serves as the University’s top legal counsel and was the second woman ever to be appointed a vice president of the University, arrived at Yale in 1978 as the first attorney appointed to the newly formed Office of General Counsel. On Wednesday, University President Peter Salovey announced Robinson’s departure in an email to University deans, directors and officers. Although Robinson will step down at the end of August, she will stay on as a counselor through the winter of 2015 to ensure a smooth transition to her successor, who has not yet been appointed.
“It is difficult for me to think of Yale without Dorothy, as we have worked closely for more than a decade, and I have come to rely on her for the deep wisdom and guidance that she has so freely shared with deans, directors and Yale’s presidents,” Salovey said in the email.
As general counsel, Robinson has been involved in many facets of Yale, almost always behind the scenes, according to her colleagues. Although many students are unaware of her office’s work, nearly every aspect of Yale, they said, from student issues to major donations — is somehow related to the law.
Special Assistant to the President Penelope Laurans said that Robinson has “seen it all” in her role at Yale.
“My career at Yale has been an amazing arc,” Robinson said in an email. “I see my work as confidential advisor to five Yale presidents [as] my most significant, and my work with others outside of Yale to improve the conditions for higher education and research in America.”
Robinson has played a leading role in supporting an array of University initiatives, including partnerships with New Haven, research collaborations, policies on sexual harassment, online education and the return of ROTC to Yale. She has also been responsible for overseeing Yale’s relations with the federal government since 2007.
University Vice President Linda Lorimer, who arrived with Robinson as a junior lawyer in 1978 and was one of the first women to hold a senior position at the University, said the scope of federal matters concerning the University — notably federal grants and compliance with regulations — has dramatically increased during Robinson’s tenure. Simultaneously, Yale has grown in complexity as an institution, she said.
“Thirty years ago, Yale didn’t have many patents to protect, and there were many fewer federal regulations applying to University,” Lorimer said. “She couldn’t have imagined needing to know about Peruvian law or Internet privacy issues or Beijing leases.”
Lorimer said Robinson has contributed to a culture of women working in senior administrative positions at the University.
Administrators past and present heaped praise upon Robinson when reached Wednesday.
“Dorothy Robinson is without question the finest university general counsel in the nation, and she is widely regarded as such by her peers,” said former University President Richard Levin. “But to say that she is a great lawyer only begins to characterize her contribution to this University. In both internal and external matters, Yale holds itself to a much higher ethical standard than simply complying with the law; its behavior must be exemplary. For my 20 years as president, Dorothy was the University’s conscience — urging us to live by our values every day.”
When she first arrived at Yale, Robinson worked under then-General Counsel Jose Cabranes, who now serves on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
“She was there at the beginning and she has built a first-class legal office during a period when Yale and all other colleges and universities have faced increasing legal and regulatory challenges,” Cabranes said.
Special Adviser to the President Martha Highsmith said Robinson has effectively combined institutional memory, affinity for Yale and team-building abilities.
“Some lawyers seem to think their role is to tell you what you can’t do,” Lorimer said. “Dorothy has always seen her role as to be helpful in achieving the goals of the institution.”
The general counsel’s office is located at 2 Whitney Avenue.