WASHINGTON SPIRIT • Summer 2002  

Michael Cannon, Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel

By Donna Kettenbach

Michael Cannon is used to complexity and challenges. As executive vice chancellor and general counsel for Washington University, he is routinely involved in complex legal issues facing a major research institution; its students, faculty, and staff; and a medical school and its faculty practice plan.

Providing legal counsel for such an entity has vast responsibilities. "It probably isn't news to anyone that Washington University is a remarkably complex community organized around three extraordinarily ambitious missions of advancing knowledge, caring for the ill, and educating the young," says Cannon. "Major research universities, particularly those with top-tier medical schools, represent one of the most pervasively regulated industries nationwide."

Cannon and his team of nine attorneys help navigate the University through the myriad government regulations affecting patient care, sponsored research, and the management of tax-exempt institutions. They also provide legal counsel and representation to the University in its technology transfer, real estate, employment, and other business and litigation matters, to cite but a few of the legal fields involved in managing a research university. "It amounts to the most diverse practice of law imaginable," he observes.

As if such legal work were not enough, he also wears different hats at the University, and wastes no time taking off one to don another. As executive vice chancellor, Cannon holds down a wide range of other leadership responsibilities, including overseeing the University's human resources operations. Moving from his legal work to overseeing employee benefits programs, to reviewing CFU budgets, to mentoring exceptional students, to teaching courses at the law school has kept Cannon challenged since he arrived in 1993.

Three years ago, he created the University Committee on Named Scholarships for Graduate Students, serving as chair from 1999-2000 and as co-chair today. "The committee works hard to identify those students who could be serious candidates for Rhodes, Marshall, Mellon, and other prestigious scholarships; to make them aware of these opportunities; and then to help prepare them fully for the intense competition involved in winning these coveted opportunities," he says.

Cannon knows of what he speaks ... he earned a Rhodes Scholarship as a WU student. He graduated with a degree in economics in 1973, spent two years on his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, and went on to Yale Law School.

After serving on the Missouri Selection Committee for Rhodes Scholars from 1995-1998, he saw a challenge for his alma mater. "I was aware that other universities take a proactive approach to identifying and mentoring candidates from their student bodies, and it seemed Washington University needed to do the same. The quality of our student body is so high and has at times seemed underrepresented in the most prestigious scholarships available for graduate study," Cannon says.

Edward Macias, executive vice chancellor and dean of Arts & Sciences, believes Cannon has helped transform the way the University goes about preparing students for big-name scholarships. He notes that the committee, mostly faculty members, has had great success recently, including a first-ever for WU: two Rhodes Scholarship winners in the same year, Sarah S. Johnson, A.B. '01, and Ian Klaus, A.B. '01.

Of Cannon's direction, Johnson says, "I quickly came to view him more as a trusted mentor than a scholarship committee chairman. He encouraged me to examine why I wanted to go to Oxford, to look beyond the appeal of accolades, to consider how success comes on many different levels. His guidance enabled me to evaluate and reaffirm my motives to become a Rhodes Scholar. Most of all, it is Mr. Cannon's perspective and discerning advice about life that will remain with me."

"What is distinctive about Michael is the breadth of his intellectual interests, the dedication he shows to the students and Washington U., and the unflagging generosity and good humor he displays in confronting challenges," says Ryan Balot, assistant professor of classics in Arts & Sciences and currently co-chair of the scholarship committee. "He has an almost unique capacity to elicit such qualities and behavior from others, and he has invariably helped our candidates to become the sort of people everyone will respect and admire."

Cannon personally mentors two to three such students a year, focusing on their career aspirations, the factors that have accounted for their success to date, and strategies for building on those successes to accomplish as much as possible in the scholarship competitions.

"Mr. Cannon was a tremendous help during my preparations for the Rhodes Scholarship interview, and I am grateful for his support and inspiration during the process," says Alla Jezmir, B.S.B.A. '02, who was a Rhodes finalist. "He is an outstanding role model, and he is truly devoted to the students at our university."

Cannon's dedication to WU was also evident when he taught a course in liability insurance coverage at the law school for six years. He loved it and hopes to teach another class "in the not-too-distant future." Meanwhile, his wife, Denise Field (whom he met their first week at Yale), is handling that end as a lecturer at the law school. They have two teenage sons now, who keep them both busy. Cannon also keeps active challenging himself in triathlons. Although he has recently medalled in an age-bracket competition, Cannon dryly notes, "It's a good thing I'm not in it for the glory."

When he joined his alma mater, Cannon brought a wealth of experience with him. He had been in private practice at a law firm in Washington, D.C., for 13 years, and before that, he served as a federal prosecutor in government corruption cases. He is an integral part of the University's administration, serving on numerous committees and on the chancellor's four-member management committee, advising on many policy matters.

As part of the team strategizing to make the University even better, Cannon will no doubt continue to be involved in complex and challenging issues. But, he's used to that.

Donna Kettenbach is a free-lance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

PEER REVIEW

"Washington University is very fortunate to have Mike Cannon. I am sure that there is not a more able general counsel in American higher education. Time and again I have relied on his guidance and wisdom."

—-William H. Danforth, Chancellor Emeritus and Vice Chairman of the Board


"Mike Cannon is a brilliant, knowledgeable, thorough attorney who offers carefully crafted decisions and advice. He is a wonderful communicator and a tremendous asset to the University. We have a very complex environment and many issues come up, and he and his staff deal with them effectively. In addition, he has recruited an outstanding array of attorneys for the University."

William A. Peck, Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs and Dean of the School of Medicine


"He's much more than a lawyer—he knows us, he's an Arts & Sciences graduate, and he cares deeply about Washington University. Mike is the kind of person I want on my team—I seek his advice often, and it goes way beyond the legal sphere of things."

—Edward S. Macias, Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean of Arts & Sciences


"As general counsel, Michael Cannon is superb. He is a brilliant strategist and is very knowledgeable about complex legal issues that confront an institution like ours. He inspires trust and confidence, and his advice is always based on a thorough assessment of every facet of the situation at hand. He cares deeply about the advance of the University and is dedicated to its success."

Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor


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