Tuesday, September 5, 1995
By Michael D. Larson
Daily Free Press Staff Writer
BOSTON, Sept. 5, 1995 -- Earle C. Cooley, the chairman of Boston University's board of trustees, has not built his formidable professional reputation by shying away from controversy.
In the past few years, the 1957 School of Law graduate has represented a clientele which ranges from the survivors of the Branch Davidian cult to Boston University.
Cooley's professional life has earned him equal amounts of public scrutiny and praise. Although he is considered one of the top-ranked trial lawyers in the country, questions regarding his legal representation of Boston University in several high-profile lawsuits were raised during a 1993 investigation conducted by Attorney General Scott Harshbarger into BU's financial affairs. No formal charges were ever filed, but the investigation exposed him to accusations of conflict of interest.
Currently, Cooley chairs a body that few university administrators interact with on a daily basis, but he is responsible for much of the school's top policy and administrative decisions.
"The role of the board of trustees is to oversee and monitor the affairs of the institution... to review how the school is doing," BU general counsel Todd Klipp explained. Klipp, who is present in his official capacity at many of the trustee meetings, has known Cooley for almost 10 years.
"He is a terrific human being," Klipp said. "Not only is he extraordinarily good at what he does, he is a very, very decent person. He's kind and good to work with."
"He has very good leadership [skills]; he knows the kinds of things he wants to do," said Dr. Esther A. H. Hopkins, a BU trustee who serves as general counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. "I've been impressed with him. Certainly he is devoted to the university and he thinks a lot of what he is doing and why he is doing it."
While no formal charges were leveled against Cooley in Harshbarger's 1993 investigation, The Boston Globe reported in January, 1993, that he was being scrutinized for receiving "lucrative fees from legal work done on behalf of the university."
The attorney general's office had no comment on the investigation.
Klipp confirmed that Cooley has performed legal services in the past, and continues to do so on a "pretty infrequent" basis. Cooley's work for the university is legal, he said, and the conflict-of-interest questions are irrelevant.
"No one has ever said, and there is no law or rule or regulation anywhere, that says that it is improper to do business with a member of the board of trustees," Klipp said.
He noted the irony of prohibiting universities from seeking aid from their trustees, as board members are usually highly qualified specialists within their chosen fields.
Recognized in 1982 and 1992 by BU's School of Law and General Alumni Associations with special awards, Cooley was unanimously elected to head the organization in March of 1994- 14 years after first serving as vice chairman and 20 years after first becoming a member. His official biography also mentions a citation in the book, "The Best Lawyers of America."
"I think he's an extraordinarily effective chairman," said Melvin B. Miller, the editor and publisher of the Bay State Banner and a BU trustee since the 1970s. "He's exceedingly articulate, very thoughtful and very decisive. I think those are the qualities that are needed now."
Miller said Cooley's skills were essential in guiding the search for President John R. Silber's replacement last fall and that he has served BU's best interests during his tenure here.
"Let me tell you one thing," Miller said. "His contributions to the university exceed the amount of his legal fees so if somebody wants to do the work who is going to give us back more than he charges, that's fine. Let him get into the mix."
"[Former board of trustees chairman] Arthur Metcalf served many years as chairman and made outstanding contributions to the university," BU spokesman Kevin Carleton said. "He provided a leadership that is unparalleled in the history of the university, perhaps. And Earle has picked right up."
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