Company News

Harvard Hires New Lawyer From Northrop Grumman

Memorial Church on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Mel Musto/Bloomberg)

(Bloomberg) -- Harvard University said it hired a new general counsel who previously worked at Northrop Grumman Corp. and the US Department of Defense, at a time when the institution faces intense scrutiny over its policies toward antisemitism and has faced calls from some students to cut financial ties with military contractors.

Jennifer O’Connor will start July 29, the university’s interim president Alan Garber said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“Over the course of her career, she has gained extensive experience within large and complex organizations that are subject to close public scrutiny,” Garber wrote.

O’Connor, 58, was most recently vice president of technology and information law and policy at Falls Church, Virginia-based aerospace and defense company Northrop, where she worked for seven years. She’s served in senior jobs in the federal government, including general counsel for the Department of Defense and held roles at the White House Counsel’s office.  O’Connor attended Harvard College and obtained her legal degree from Georgetown and was a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.  

She will lead Harvard’s legal strategy as the university navigates numerous congressional probes and lawsuits over its handling of antisemitism on campus in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel and the retaliatory war in Gaza. Claudine Gay, the university’s first Black president, resigned this year following her highly criticized testimony in front of a House committee and allegations of plagiarism. It also has to navigate admissions following Harvard’s defeat last year at the Supreme Court over how race is used in admissions.

Garber has sought to quell concerns over a charged climate on campus by creating antisemitism and Islamophobia taskforces and adopting a policy of staying silent on controversial issues that don’t affect the university. Harvard also punished some students for taking part in unauthorized protests, refusing to allow some to graduate, which created a backlash during the commencement ceremony in May. 

O’Connor will be required to address multiple Republican-led House committees, which are looking at potential violations of discrimination laws and the university’s tax-exempt status. 

“She is used to Washington and will be in a good position to assist the University in the many challenges that lie ahead,” Neil Eggleston, a former White House Counsel who hired her in the Obama administration, said in a statement shared by Harvard.  

Eileen Finan has served as Harvard’s interim general counsel since March 1 and before that the post was held by Diane Lopez, who retired. 

--With assistance from Brooke Sutherland and Bill Haubert.

(Updates with comment in the eighth paragraph.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.