Jon McNutt appointed as interim general counsel

Jon McNutt, who will serve as interim general counsel until President Veitch leaves the school, in the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Building at Occidental College in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. Gwen Berghof/The Occidental

In a campus-wide email, President Jonathan Veitch announced Jon McNutt as the interim general counsel for the college starting Sept. 9. A partner at LA law firm Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP, McNutt is taking on the role after working with the college as an outside counsel for several years.

McNutt specializes in employment and labor law, and he said he will return to his role at his law firm, Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP, in Spring 2020. A UCLA and Loyola Law School graduate, McNutt has worked extensively within the California legal system.

Working on site at the college two to three days a week, McNutt said he has been enjoying his new role, a change in pace from his firm.

“I’ve been working with the college as outside counsel for five, six years now, and it’s been a fantastic experience,” McNutt said. “I really enjoy working with people here. So coming inside has given me a kind of an additional understanding of the college and the great work that it does for the students and for everybody who’s related to the college. So it was an exciting opportunity.”

The general counsel serves as the college’s main legal adviser for any issues they might come across, according to McNutt. For McNutt, being general counsel means ensuring the college is safe and compliant with all laws and standards.

“[My work] can be anything from real estate issues to contract issues,” McNutt said. “If there happens to be an event on campus, you kind of want to work through from the very beginning. What is the event gonna hold? What needs to be done to prepare for the event? And how do we protect the college right away? And it goes through all areas and types of law as well.”

The general counsel covers many more day-to-day activities than people may assume. McNutt deals with everything from residential housing and food vendors to WiFi functionality.

“There’s a lot of different balls to keep up in the air to make sure everything is functioning properly,” McNutt said. “And then when something does go wrong, we want to make sure we have backup plans too. See, if there’s a power grid failure, now, what do we do if that happens? Or if there’s a natural disaster of some sort? How and what kind of emergency plans do we have in place to make sure that people are still safe?”

McNutt works directly with several major departments such as Human Resources, the Title IX office and Campus Dining.

“This is kind of a small city that we’re running here,” McNutt said.

McNutt also said he believes improvements can be made within the college to improve communication.

“I’d like to make sure that things are done in a more cohesive manner, that people are communicating with each other in the right way, within the administration, within the faculty, within the staff and within the students,” McNutt said. “Because the more that people communicate, I think the less legal problems might end up coming up.”

According to Veitch’s email, McNutt will continue his role throughout the year as Occidental prepares for its presidential transition.

“Because of the central role the General Counsel plays, and because the position reports directly to the President, I believe that Oxy’s new President should have the opportunity to select the person who fills that role on a permanent basis,” Veitch said in his announcement.

For now, McNutt said he is juggling work from both his firm and his role as general counsel.

“I’m still keeping up my partnership. But at the same time, it’s just kind of added to the workload, I guess,” McNutt said. “It’s different in that I’m doing a broader spectrum of legal work. My practice with my partnership is usually related closer to employment issues, so this has given me a chance to get involved in other areas [of law].”

McNutt is no stranger to working with higher education in general, having previously advised CalArts as an outside counsel. According to the LA Times, professors at CalArts previously fought to unionize in 2015 as the school has no tenure system or protections for full-time faculty. CalArts faculty sought an election to determine if they would join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), but activists eventually withdrew their petition for an election due to a lack of support from the faculty, according to the LA Times.

“I worked with Cal Arts when they had a fight, it was two years ago, but they had a union organizing campaign,” McNutt said. “They also had some employee issues that they were dealing with, so I advised them as an outside counsel.”

At Occidental, non-tenure track (NTT) faculty voted to unionize May 14 with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721 and the college’s clerical, administrative and support staff voted Sept. 9 to join the same union.

“When it comes to employee situations, the nature of California is that if you’re an employer in California, you’re going to run into problems at some point,” McNutt said. “Because it’s incredibly complicated. There’s a lot of laws that our governor just signed into law that will take effect on January 1 that employers have to keep up with, right? So that’s kind of my role to make sure that my clients, whether it’s this college, or other places, are up to date on what they need to do with respect to them,” McNutt said.

Aside from his legal duties, McNutt said he is enjoying Occidental’s atmosphere and holds the school in high regard.

“I think you’ve got a fantastic campus here. You’ve got a great place to go to school,” McNutt said. “It’s really nice to be an environment where there’s so much institutional pride. There really is. We’ve got employees who’ve been working here for 20, 30, 40 years. That’s an incredible statement.”