Frequently Asked Questions
The office of the general counsel represents the university with respect to its legal concerns. Sometimes, the office determines that the university is best served by sending a matter to "outside counsel." The vice president and general counsel must provide prior approval before a matter is sent to outside attorneys. Usually, the campus is responsible for the legal costs associated with sending a matter to outside counsel.
I have been named in a lawsuit related to my university responsibilities. What should I do?
Send a written request to the office of the general counsel, asking the general counsel to arrange for your defense. Civil actions against any member of the Board of Regents, or any university officer, employee, or student in training may qualify for a University paid defense under § 6.8 of the Bylaws of the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Certain criminal actions against commissioned university law enforcement officers may also qualify for a university-paid defense under NU's self-insurance program.
I have received a subpoena related to my university responsibilities. What should I do?
Send a copy of the subpoena and all material that accompanied the subpoena, such as a copy of the postmarked envelope, check for witness fee, and instructions to the office of the general counsel. A lawyer will examine the material and contact you with advice.
Am I covered by insurance for the risks related to my work activities?
The university self-insures some risks and has insurance coverage for others. Workers compensation, general and professional liability insurance for personal injury and property damage, and other types of insurance are available. The vice president for business and finance or your campus risk manager can provide details.
I have received a written request for public records. What do I do?
There are a few individuals on each campus who regularly reply to these requests as part of their job duties; however, most employees do not. Those employees should immediately provide the general counsel's office with a copy of the request. An attorney will examine the request and provide advice. It is important not to delay in contacting this office, as a response to a request for public records must be provided within four business days. When you contact the attorney, you may be asked to refer to Neb. Rev. Stat. 86-712.05 in the course of your discussion.
I have received a request for student records and/or student information. What should I do?
This question has some general answers and many exceptions to those general answers. Except for "directory information," both state and federal law provide that student information is confidential -- and even then, there are ways that students can cause their directory information to be protected as well. Before acting upon any request for student information, contact the office of the general counsel for assistance.
Most of the time, student information cannot be disclosed without specific written consent from the student. Student information should not even be shared within the university, unless the person receiving the information has a legitimate educational purpose for the information. To learn more, see Regents Policy 5.10, but contact the office of the general counsel for assistance with the application of that policy.
I have received a request for information concerning someone who works or worked at the university (e.g. a job reference or a loan application reference). What should I do?
State law and the Board of Regents Bylaw 1.1.4 provide that an employee's routine directory information and salary are public information. However, personal information contained in personnel files is confidential, unless the person to whom those records apply consents to its disclosure. Information that is part of an employee's personnel files cannot be shared without the employee's consent.
In the case of job or other references, the safest approach is to get prior consent from the employee, particularly if the reference will be less than favorable. If you do not have employee consent, stick to factual observations without the embellishment of opinion or speculation. For example, you might report that the employee has been tardy to work without excuse five times, not that you think the employee comes in late due to irresponsible personal behaviors. Seek assistance from the human resources department if you find yourself involved with a difficult or sensitive reference request.
I sit on a university committee. Are our meetings open to the public?
The intent of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act is to provide public access to governmental bodies that make public policy. For example, the Board of Regents, or a committee appointed by the Board of Regents to provide it with advice, is subject to the open meetings laws. However, the vast numbers of committees that operate within the university community are not involved in advising the Regents or in making public policy. In most instances, committee meetings are unlikely to be subject to the Open Meetings Act. Call the office of the general counsel with any questions about a particular committee.
Do I have authority to sign or otherwise enter into a contract on behalf of my department or work unit?
Probably not. Very few people have the authority to sign contracts or enter into agreements on behalf of the university. Regents Policy 6.3 lists the kinds of contracts that campuses may enter into without first securing approval from the Board of Regents. Contracts that are not listed there probably need to be submitted to the Board of Regents for approval. Even if your contract is described in Regents Policy 6.3 as one that your campus has the authority to enter into, you probably don't have authority to sign the contract yourself. Each campus has a list of persons with the delegated authority to sign certain kinds of contracts. Contact your campus's business and finance office to find out how contracts are administered and signed on your campus.