Facilitating difficult legal decisions with research and expertise

Jessica Price, associate general counsel

Editor’s note: Duck of the Week is a section in Around the O Workplace that highlights UO employees and their work. Each story features an interview with one employee, in his or her own words, with light editing for clarity and length only.

Jessica Price
Associate General Counsel

How long have you worked at the UO?

Almost three and a half years.

Tell us about your work:

I am an associate general counsel for the University of Oregon. This means I’m a lawyer for the university and offer my advice on any legal questions that may arise. I support the vice president for Research and Innovation and the Division of Global Engagement in all matters related to research and international affairs. For example, the UO was one of the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the federal government when they threatened to deport our international students. I helped draft and manage that lawsuit.

Free speech is one of my areas of expertise, and I find ways to support members of our campus community when it comes to disability requests. In terms of international employment, I supervise our international employment specialists who help any employee at the university who’s eligible and supported by their department to get permanent residency. My work also revolves around financial aid issues and foreign influence concerns. I recently helped launch our ethics website, which helps provide support for university employees that are faced with miscellaneous ethics issues. I also sit on the Institutional Review Board and help advise when there are legal questions related to human subject research.

I also deal with all sorts of COVID-19 related emergencies. I help answer tough questions about how we intend to respond to changing Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance or changing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These changes pertain to COVID-19 testing, distribution of the vaccine, or university-wide transitions to an online setting.

Lastly, I support our student extern program. Every term we try to bring on one or more law students to get exposed to what an Office of the General Counsel or in-house counsel does. I supervise those students, which is pretty rewarding.

What does your typical day look like?

I would say that there is no such thing as a typical day. I’ll often serve on a committee that’s struggling with a tough issue about policy changes. When I prepare for those meetings, I do legal research and try to anticipate some of the problems and questions that the committee will have. In addition to that, I participate in lots of meetings with people to talk through a particular issue. I do legal research and make sure I understand how courts have decided similar questions. I’ll also see if I can identify some best practices from other universities.

In the spring, I teach a class about criminal investigations for undergraduate students. Last year, I had 96 students and we were all online. The spring includes teaching or preparing for that class. I think it’s a ton of fun talking to students about decisions from the Supreme Court on investigations, or about becoming members of law enforcement, public defenders, lawyers and judges.

What do you like about working at the UO?

I love that I get to have conversations with people before a difficult decision is made. It allows me to make sure that different perspectives are considered. I really enjoy that because criticizing people after a decision has been made can be pretty easy. But having to be a part of the decision-making process is really challenging. I like that there’s this opportunity for me as a lawyer to get involved in that stage.

I also love that the UO is like a small city. We’ve got law enforcement, we’ve got research, and all sorts of contracts we enter or buildings we manage. We’re a government institution so we are bound by the United States Constitution in addition to the Oregon Constitution. I love that because it means when we struggle with tough decisions, we also have to take the Constitution into account as well as people’s rights and the consequences of the decisions we make as a government entity. I really like that it creates an additional layer of challenge in an office where there’s so many different topics that come up.

What keeps you motivated?

I am motivated by the fact that we work at a public institution on behalf of the public, which can only exist with our students. That helps me when I think about everything I do. We’re supporting an entity that is helping to shape future leaders, and we have the option to do good. And we should do good. We can show people by our actions what it’s like to be ethical, while inspiring and cultivating debate in the open flow of ideas. It inspires me to know that the work we do impacts students and our future in so many ways.

I’m also very inspired by the work of our faculty in terms of the research they do and the inventions they’re working on. I love that there are people who have dedicated their lives to solving tough questions through science or otherwise. Since I review all research grants over $250,000, I enjoy being behind the scenes as I support faculty members in their pursuit of funding.

What is something people may not know about you?

I was just elected president of my rotary, and will become president in July. I’m really excited to be a part of a club that does so much community service with an international focus. As incoming president, I'm interested in facilitating more international conversations. For example, we host an International Month of Mixology where we have lessons about how to make drinks from different countries. That event has included fundraising and allowed us to purchase ambulances and motorcycles for people in Kenya. I’m pretty excited to take the lead of a group that emphasizes local and international service. 

Jessica Price is part of the Office of the General Counsel.

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