|David Winakor is
Wesleyan's first general counsel and represents the university on issues
affecting the university.
General Counsel Advises University on Policies, Contracts, Litigation
According to David Winakor, lawyers and doctors often have something in
“We can’t always tell you what exact illness or illnesses you might have,
but we can probably help treat some symptoms and maybe even prevent it from
getting worse,” Winakor says. “Although our issues are very different, we
are both trained to find the answer.”
As a lawyer and Wesleyan’s first General Counsel, Winakor represents the
university, its trustees, officers, faculty and staff, all in their official
capacities, on various issues affecting the institution. By knowing and
researching state, federal and case law, and imparting a dose of “common
sense,” he is the university’s go-to person for legal advice.
Winakor estimates that probably less than half of Wesleyan’s peers have
their own General Counsel, and larger institutions and state schools may
have more than 15 lawyers staffed in-house. As a member of the National
Association of College and University Attorneys, Winakor communicates with
fellow institutional lawyers on ways to enhance legal assistance to member
“Wesleyan and other smaller schools have to do everything larger intuitions
do from regulatory, compliance, litigation to handling student issues. Our
volume of student or faculty issues might be lower but our breadth is the
same,” Winakor explains.
John Meerts, vice president for finance and administration, created the
Office of the General Counsel in 2007. His goal was to reduce the cost of
hiring external law firms and have an in-house attorney with institutional
knowledge. Winakor was hired in July as Wesleyan’s first full-time counsel.
“At Wesleyan, working in a liberal arts environment, there is an endless
supply of cutting edge issues. I’ll never be at a loss for unique challenges
to explore and respond to,” Winakor says.
At Wesleyan, Winakor divides his workload into six categories, including
contracts, real estate, human resources, litigation, policies, and a broad
category of miscellaneous issues. A key and somewhat obvious goal throughout
is to reduce Wesleyan’s legal costs through prevention, appropriate and
timely legal responses, and hard work.
Mulling through contracts takes up a significant portion of the Winakor’s
time, and he seems to encounter a constant flow of them across his desk.
When a department needs to purchase equipment or a service above certain
dollar values or outside of University policy limits, Winakor will discuss
the deal with the parties and review the “fine print.” Recent contracts
include warranties for new science equipment, investment agreements, banking
arrangements, engagement agreements on major construction projects, and a
wide variety of technology sharing or transfer agreements.
In addition, Winakor wrote a contract to formalize a service level agreement
between Wesleyan and members of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education
who use Wesleyan’s electronic portfolio.
“Dave has been fabulous in helping write the contracts for us,” says Ganesan
“Ravi” Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology
Services. “Most recently, he helped us finalize the Comcast cable TV
contract for students.”
Winakor’s role with real estate involves working with Joyce Topshe,
assistant vice president for facilities on real estate transactions and
major project documentation. He has also worked with Human Resources to
resolve disputes with employees or hiring process concerns. For university
litigation issues, Winakor will represent Wesleyan and manage continuing
Wihile any institution will face disputes, Winakor says his job is to avoid,
mediate, manage and resolve disputes at all levels so that the university is
not unnecessarily exposed and can better serve its students.
Writing or revising current Wesleyan policies is an issue Winakor has also
moved to the forefront. His primary goal is to build a code of conduct for
the university in order to make all employees aware of the school’s most
critical policies including issues of discrimination and harassment,
conflict of interest, contracting, incident reporting and antitrust
“Key human resources policies are already written and posted on the HR
website, but we want to find a way to bring more attention to them along
with the other core policies that need to be at the forefront of what we
do.” Winakor explains.
A conflicts of interest policy is one such core policy that needed immediate
attention and which was recently adopted. He’s also already dealt with a
hot-button issue on campus: political contests.
Since Wesleyan is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit entity as defined by the Internal
Revenue Service, the university is prohibited from participation in
political activities. Students interested in bringing a candidate to campus
had difficulty interpreting on how to legally do so, because of the IRS
In December, he met with the Student Life Committee and developed a
Political Speakers Policy counter-proposal based on students’ input.
“So what we ended up doing is drafting a policy to be administered and
enforced by the Student Leadership & Activities Office that says on certain
days of the week, Wesleyan would allow any and all political candidates to
use certain designated facilities so long as the candidates scheduled and
supported it themselves and understood that the university does not support
or endorse the candidacy of any political candidate,” Winakor explains.
Prior to Wesleyan, Winakor worked for eight years as the Assistant General
Counsel and Vice President for Business Development for The Stanley Works in
New Britain, Conn. Prior to that, he practiced corporate and commercial law
at Murtha Cullina, LLP in Hartford, Conn. after serving as a commissioned
officer in the United States Army.
Winakor received his bachelor’s degree in Geography and Criminal Justice
from The Ohio State University and his Juris Doctor from The University of
Connecticut School of Law.
He lives in Portland with his wife, Laura, and three children, Jonah, 12;
Jacob, 10; and Grace, 8. He enjoys photography, coaching his children’s
soccer and baseball teams, and rebuilding and restoring cars and
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection