“We’re a public institution. We shouldn’t keep secrets.” – Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson, associate professor of business administration, will begin his new role as Emporia State’s general counsel next July. He is currently serving as interim general counsel in addition to his teaching duties. He has also served as faculty senate president.
What was your previous position at the university?
I’ve been teaching with the faculty here since the fall of 1999, in the school of business, teaching business law and business ethics courses. I’ll do that the rest of this academic year and then at the end of this year I’ll be the full time general counsel.
Will you miss teaching?
Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed teaching. It’s set up to where I can teach one to two classes a year, depending on what the school of business would like. In fact, before I applied for this position, I thought a long time about what it meant to give up in order to take this position. I finally decided to do it.
What led you to the general counsel position?
I practiced law full time before I was teaching here. In my practice I had represented an awful lot of small business, and some of the small businesses can get kind of big. So I feel like I’ve got some actual experience in advising the CEO. I just felt that I had the background for it, and (President Michael Shonrock) agreed, at least enough to give me a shot.
Were you initially planning on applying to be the full time general counsel?
At first I was just going to fill in as interim and even when I started, I hadn’t really intended to apply, but as I was doing the work, I found that I really enjoyed doing this. It was challenging in a different way than teaching, and I started to really enjoy it. It just hit me that I really like these people, and I like what I’m doing – maybe I should apply for this. If I hadn’t been interim counsel, I probably wouldn’t have applied, but it gave me a good taste.
What are your responsibilities as general counsel?
Looking through an awful lot of contracts. Whenever the president or anyone in the administration has a question that is even remotely related to the law that affects university interests, they’ll ask me, and it’s my job to give them an answer. Employment issues that come up, reviewing policies. Just whenever decision makers have a question that involves the university they ask me and I try to give them an answer instead of, “Well it depends.” Nothing is more frustrating than a lawyer who just says, “Well it depends.”
Where do you stand on the enforcement of the state’s open meetings and open records laws?
In my practice, when you get to know the lawyers you’re dealing with instead of going through the formal procedures, you can call them up and say, “Hey, can we have copies of this stuff?” If it’s something they’re going to get anyway, then the practice becomes “let’s just share it.” My feeling is similar, that if it’s something that is clearly available through the open records law, why make somebody jump through the hoops? We’re not opponents out here. We’re all at the same school. We’re a public institution. We shouldn’t keep secrets.
What is your philosophy as a lawyer?
My philosophy is summed up by an old saying, “The law aids the vigilant, not those asleep on their rights.”