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University’s chief legal officer retires after forty years

Beverly Ledbetter reflects on career of service, future plans, greatest accomplishments

“I am able to weather storms without letting them weather me,” Vice President and General Counsel Beverly Ledbetter said when she described qualities that have helped her to navigate her time as the University’s chief legal officer.

After 40 years of weathering storms at the University, Ledbetter is retiring in summer 2018, according to a University press release.

When she first arrived at Brown in 1978, Ledbetter did not plan on staying for so long. “I thought I’d be here seven (or) eight years,” she said. But the people at the University inspired her to stay. “I’ve always enjoyed the individuals I’ve worked with,” she said.

Ledbetter has “many, many years of experience and (has a) deep knowledge base around issues of academic law, processes (and) regulations,” said Terrie Fox Wetle, professor of health services, policy and practice. “She’s a nationally-recognized expert on these kinds of issues.”

Although Ledbetter was instrumental in the 1993 anti-trust case United States v. Brown University in addition to spearheading heavily publicized legal efforts such as the retrieval of a Civil War-era sword that was stolen from the University and the current endeavor to recover the stolen student records of John F. Kennedy Jr. ’83, she does not cite these as her greatest accomplishments during her time at the University.

“My biggest successes are the ones that you can’t see,” she said. “They’re the ones where I’ve helped the University or the staff or administrators or even students to navigate an issue and avoid conflict.”

Ledbetter has witnessed much of the University’s transformation over the last four decades, she said, citing the increase in the number of academic disciplines offered and growth in the size of the University’s campus area as examples. “An institution is a dynamic place. You shouldn’t expect it to be the same in 2018 … (as) it was in 1978. And it’s not,” she said.

Even after her retirement, Ledbetter expects to remain involved in the University. “I will continue to do some of the legal work that’s already in play,” she said. She also plans to “take on some special projects.”

The last time Ledbetter had two consecutive weeks off from work was in 2008, so she said that in her retirement she is looking forward to traveling to places — such as the Galapagos Islands, Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon, for example — where her work trips have not taken her.

Though the search for her successor has just begun, Ledbetter said she expects there to be great interest in the role. “It’s a wonderful position, it’s a wonderful institution and I can’t imagine why one thousand people don’t apply for the job,” she said.

Open-mindedness and flexibility are essential characteristics for her successor, she added. She advises the next general counsel to “be prepared for anything … and everything.”

Besides her “great sense of humor,” Ledbetter has “been a wonderful asset to the University” and has “internalized the essence of Brown,” said Sheila Blumstein, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences. “She’ll be very sorely missed.”


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