Exactly four decades to the day from when Ken Davidson received his first license to practice law, Northern Illinois University’s General Counsel today announced his retirement plans.
Davidson, also an NIU Vice President and Parliamentarian for the NIU Board of Trustees, will continue to serve the university through Dec. 31. He joined NIU exclusively in 1995, served as its Corporation Counsel and became General Counsel in 2002.
A nationwide search for his replacement will begin this fall.
“I’ve been practicing law for 40 years, and Sept. 1 is the anniversary of when I was sworn in as an attorney at law,” Davidson said. “After 40 years of service to clients and public interests, I am looking forward to spending my time and energies with close family, grandchildren and exercising the inherent freedoms that come with independence and retirement.”
NIU President John Peters called Davidson “a gentleman and a lawyer who has an unfailing love for the letter of the law. Ken is a trusted and valued colleague whose experience, wisdom and judgment has been put to use consistently, both in his service to the university as General Counsel and to our Board of Trustees as Parliamentarian.”
“Ken is a trusted adviser who is always available for sage comments and valuable guidance,” added Marc Straus, Chair of the NIU Board of Trustees and a lawyer himself. “We’ll miss his institutional memory and his skill in many areas of the law. We’re sorry to see him go.”
For Davidson, the decision to retire brings to a close 34 years spent in higher education.
University work offers “a daily diversity of all subjects, complexity and never-ending challenges.” Employment and labor law and dispute resolution are “probably the most recurring” subjects for NIU Legal Services problem solving, but Davidson and his team of attorneys also handle general litigation and deal with state and federal administrative law, students’ rights, procurement and contracts and intellectual property issues.
He came to NIU after serving five years as General Counsel and helping with the transfer of state governance and formal corporate dissolution of the Illinois Board of Regents in Springfield, which governed NIU, Illinois State University and the University of Illinois-Springfield until the reorganization of public higher education in1995.
Moving to DeKalb offered him the welcome opportunity to participate in “the birthing of the NIU Board of Trustees.”
Davidson worked closely to launch the new independent board with former NIU President John E. La Tourette and a group that included his predecessor, George Shur, as well as Trustee Myron Siegel, Anne Kaplan, Eddie Williams, James Harder, Kathryn Buettner and the late J. Carroll Moody, NIU’s Provost at that time.
An organizational meeting was held Jan. 2, 1996, said Davidson, who proudly estimates that about 95 percent of the original Bylaws, Regulations and policy statements he and the others drafted remain intact 15 years later.
“It was a notable professional privilege to be in on the creation of a new public higher education governing board,” Davidson said, “pulling together all the essential pieces and applying lessons I’d learned in previous roles to create as nearly perfect a new organization as we could.”
Davidson began his legal career as a litigator for the Tulsa, Okla.-based law firm of Holliman, Langholz, Runnels & Dorwart, where he had clerked and interned while still a law student at the University of Tulsa College of Law and held a then-rare “limited license” to practice law while still in law school.
He has continued that experiential learning concept for the legal interns utilized by University Legal Services, which has helped with the practical skills training of more than 100 NIU College of Law students.
His early years also included service at a public legal aid clinic, where he found “satisfaction in helping people with serious legal needs who were economically disadvantaged.”
But the U.S. Air Force, which had commissioned Davidson as a Distinguished AFROTC Military Graduate and later granted him an educational delay for his law schooling, soon needed him. He came on active duty as a Captain, and his initial assignment was Assistant Staff Judge Advocate at a pilot training base in Columbus AFB, MS. In 1972 he was scheduled to join a unique multidisciplinary team at the Pentagon to design and launch new policies to help address difficult social problems among the U.S.A.F. troops serving during the Vietnam War and thereafter their coming home from active duty and re-entering society.
Each of the two Headquarters USAF teams included an attorney, a chaplain, a psychiatrist, a pilot and an information officer. They focused on stressful military life problems related to alcohol and drug abuse, non-discriminations issues and domestic relations concerns.
“We then travelled worldwide to meet with major air command generals and their staffs to explain and help implement these new policies,” said Davidson, who was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal for his role in that work. “We helped start a whole new career field for the U.S. Air Force, now known as “social actions.”
Serving later as a Circuit Defense Counsel for general courts martial in the First Circuit of the USAF Trial Judiciary in a judicial circuit that included 28 states, Associate Appellate Defense Counsel, and staff attorney for the White House Clemency Program, he decided to return to civilian life to support his wife, Anne, and their two young daughters. He was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for his successful works after the Pentagon service.
By that time, in 1976, he had earned an LLM. degree from Georgetown University Law Center and “was ripe for the civilian job market.”
The perfect fit awaited him at Oklahoma State University, where he served as a counsel to the university’s constitutional governing Board of Regents and the O.S.U. and A&M Colleges’ administrations.
“It was very much like what I’d done in the Air Force as a base legal officer,” he said. “After 14 years in Stillwater, though, I wanted to run my own office. Illinois Board of Regents Chancellor Rod Groves invited me to come up to Springfield and assume duties as system General Counsel.”
Illinois brought a new challenge to the Davidson family: a commuter marriage.
Anne, a speech-language pathologist, left her tenured faculty position at O.S.U. and in Illinois first accepted a tenure-track position at Western Illinois University as Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic director. She later moved to work in pediatrics at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, and then became a clinical supervisor at Illinois State University and eventually director of its Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic.
Both finally were able to settle at NIU, where Anne served several years as clinical faculty and director of the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic inside the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders in the College of Health and Human Sciences. She retired this past summer.
Ken Davidson’s 15 years on the NIU campus also included service as the university’s Freedom of Information Act officer, statutory ethics officer, privacy officer and Clery Act compliance coordination officer. As risk management officer, Davidson has been administrator of the Board of Trustees Liability Self-Insurance Plan since its creation.
Outside NIU, Davidson has served continuously as the President’s designated voting member of the statewide board of trustees for the Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative for purchasing since 1990, acting as the elected chair twice as well as a continuous member of its risk management group.
He has remained an active member of the bar associations of Oklahoma, Illinois and the District of Columbia. His professional associations have also included the DeKalb County Bar Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys and the University Risk Management Association. He has been admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the trial bar for the federal courts in the Northern District of Oklahoma and Illinois.
Davidson has been honored for several years in various Who’s Who listings for prominent leaders and licensed practicing professionals.