Miyares Names Iler as UVa’s University Counsel

Cliff Iler

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Jason Miyares has selected Clifton M. Iler as the University Counsel for the University of Virginia. As the university’s lead attorney, he will supervise a team of nine other attorneys, including three for the health system.

The press releasing announcing the appointment stressed Iler’s experience in higher-education and healthcare law. He comes from the University of Kentucky, where he served as Deputy General Counsel for Faculty, Students, and Research. Like UVa, the University of Kentucky has a medical school and healthcare system.

“Cliff is a brilliant attorney with over a decade of experience in higher education and healthcare law. I am confident he will be an excellent addition to the University of Virginia and serve the students, faculty, staff, and Commonwealth well,” said Attorney General Miyares in the prepared statement.

Miyares caused a media kerfluffle when he sacked the previous university counsel, Timothy Heaphy, with vaguely-worded reasons relating to the circumstances of his appointment and his legal reasoning. There followed a wave of speculation that Miyares had fingered Heaphy because he had taken a leave of absence to lead the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 mob scene at the U.S. Capitol.

While Heaphy had worked as a white-collar criminal defense attorney, law professor, and former U.S. federal prosecutor, he had no career background in issues relating to running universities and hospitals. But Iler has that background in spades. Before his job at UK, he had worked for MCG Health associated with the Medical College of Georgia.

People think of the University of Virginia primarily as an academic enterprise that happens to own a health system. The truth is that the UVa Medical Center and affiliated medical enterprises generated $1.8 billion in revenue in Fiscal 2021, three times the $600 million generated from student tuition and fees. The UVa Medical Center accounted for $390 million of UVa’s $1.2 billion in projected capital projects for 2020-21.

UVa President Jim Ryan, like previous university presidents, brings an academic background to the job. He, like his predecessors, had no expertise in running a billion-dollar health system, which has a unique set of regulatory and legal issues. For example, UVa’s medical center generated controversy in recent years over its aggressive billing practices.

Conservative critics of the University of Virginia had hoped Miyares would choose a University Counsel who would act vigorously to uphold freedom of speech and end compelled speech in the form of mandatory Diversity, Equity & Inclusion statements. Nothing in the press release or Iler’s resume gives a clue how he might approach those issues. To all appearances, Miyares did not pick someone based on political or ideological factors; he picked a technocrat.  

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26 responses to “Miyares Names Iler as UVa’s University Counsel”

  1. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    This appears to be about as straight down the line appointment of counsel as a critic of Youngkin could possibly hope for.
    I have searched and found nothing other than a career at Alston & Bird, a prominent firm, and then a long life associated with Health Systems.
    If you were hoping for a firebrand to come in and smack Jim Ryan and the Marxists around, you will be disappointed.
    I have heard a good mediation described as both sides leave disappointed…
    This looks like a good mediation…

  2. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Governmental authority to appoint officials at institutions of higher education diminishes academic freedom. It’s a bummer no matter how highly qualified the individual might be. This type of political patronage is corrosive.

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      So you were a critic when Dems controlled?
      There are plus and minus aspects
      Ultimately, the greatest plus in my mind is you can get rid of the hacks who appointed them and the politically appointed hack can be fired.
      Given our illustrious government failure at all levels over Covid, not feeling a lot of faith in permanent “experts.”

    2. It’s a public university. How else should officials at the school be appointed?

      1. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        In most instances one or two of the top officers are appointed by a board of trustees following a search. Those, in turn, traditionally select other senior officers also usually following a search and often with faculty consultation. Academic freedom is not negated by the fact of public or private. Academic freedom cannot coexist with government selection by patronage appointments.

        1. How many positions at UVA are filled by governmental appointment?

          1. James McCarthy Avatar
            James McCarthy

            Too many.

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Well, the BoV for one… it’s a plum tree.

            And since the faculty are State employees… all of them?

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    The anti-Ryan folks on this blog sound definitely disappointed.

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      And if you are talking about me (since I am the only anti-Ryan person who appears to have responded), you are not entirely correct.
      As a straight legal appointment, this guy appears qualified.
      It is the BOV that needs to be changed, along with the Boards of all the foundations, and then down to the very fabric of everything in UVA as it has been corrupted as an educational institution.
      Now, if as University Counsel reporting to Jason Miyares, Mr. Iler drags his feet on drafting the employment agreement extensions that the BOV approved to go beyond Youngkin’s term (and this was not political, amirite?), I would be very pleasantly surprised…
      But, I don’t know if the extension amendments have been drafted or not…

    2. How many anti-Ryan folks have communicated with you?

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      When you’ve a eye for a bigger chair in four years, you pick the field on which you may die.

  4. He seems like a good pick.

  5. From a legal standpoint, the University of Virginia is an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Office of the Attorney General functions as the legal arm of the Commonwealth. Therefore, it is entirely logical to have a system in which the AG picks and staffs the university-counsel positions at UVa and other state universities.

    In the past, that position usually went to career OAG employees. Jim Ryan broke the pattern when he lobbied to have Heaphy hired. Heaphy was a law school acquaintance of Ryan. He had no career experience in the types of law pertaining to universities or health systems. In getting rid of Heaphy and appointing Iler, Miyares has appointed someone with a career background in universities with medical centers and hospitals.

    Knowing what I know at this point in time, I would say Miyares’ decision was appropriate and non-political… unlike the previous appointment.

    As for “diminishing academic freedom,” Jim, you have zero evidence to support such a claim. I have no evidence even that Heaphy, an obvious political appointment, threatened academic freedom. At UVa, that has been a total non-issue.

    1. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Aw Jeez! JAB you know better. Your logic is absurd because under it, every UVA official should be a patronage appointment. I don’t believe TJ envisioned academic freedom in that way. The very fact of the patronage is evidence of the loss of academic freedom. No accusation has been made about the conduct of folks as patronage appointees. With over two decades of experience at the City University of New York, a public institution, neither city nor state elected officials appointed officers. Yes, I have no evidence it was a good thing. It is merely an honored tradition in America to promote free inquiry. In your view, it is acceptable that the AG has an insider to report about matters at the U. One day, that will be a conflict. Read the history of CCNY and the Commie witch hunts. Simply because this procedure exists is not a rationale to conserve or preserve it.

      1. “Your logic is absurd because under it, every UVA official should be a patronage appointment.”

        What. Are. You. Talking. About?

        You need to know more about how higher education operates in Virginia. The state has enormous say over how public universities are run. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) exercises the power to approve or disapprove the initiation of new academic programs, and it reviews the construction of new facilities. It has done so for years without controversy. Virginia’s system of public higher ed is highly decentralized, but there must be a modicum of central oversight to avoid wasteful duplication and empire building. Additionally, the state must approve university budgets. And the Department of General Services exercises oversight of buildings and facilities. And (I think this to be true) the state has a say in pay and compensation. So, there is nothing new, unusual or inconsistent about the Attorney General exercising control over legal matters just as it does for other state agencies.

        About a dozen years ago, the General Assembly restructured the organization of public higher ed, emancipating some institutions from state administrative control. UVa, Virginia Tech and VCU were granted special status (I recall that William & Mary subsequently joined them) that allowed them significant (but not total) autonomy over their operations. That is a new thing. Other universities are relegated to a 2nd and 3rd tier with significantly less autonomy.

        None of this operational control and oversight is “patronage.” — or at least it wasn’t until Ryan insisted upon Heaphy being appointed. It has NOTHING to do with academic freedom. You can’t provide a shred of evidence that University Counsels have interfered with the right of faculty members to research, write, and say what they please. The idea of having “an insider report about matters at the U.” is a paranoid figment of your imagination. You are making stuff up.

        1. James McCarthy Avatar
          James McCarthy

          The higher education architecture in NY is not very different. No allegation was made of illicit behavior on the part of any individual. Typically, you are overstating my objection. You reversed the patronage channel. Where government has the authority to appoint senior officials, that is patronage. Nor is academic freedom limited to protecting faculty. The Academic Village itself is or should be protected. CAn you assure all that the AG’s person in place will not channel about political issues at UVA or decisions being made by administration or faculty? That is the danger!!!! If the AG can appoint a senior officer why not open the patronage to other positions, deans, directors of research groups, etc if there is no danger?

          Is your defense mere payback for a prior deal? You cannot prove a shred of evidence that University Counsel have not or will not channel to the AG. The sole protection is to eliminate the patronage appointment. It’s not perfect but better than what exists.

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Projection much?
            In this case the patronage is a check on entrenched, unanswerable bureaucrats.
            When did AG Herring do anything NOT political?
            His Covid vaccine opinion was political (because clearly wrong).
            He made a lax voting opinion that got overturned.
            He joined all the resistance lawsuits.
            This guy Miyares has selected seems pretty apolitical.
            And maybe unchecked “academic freedom” isn’t such a good thing.
            (I know – CrimeThink!)

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Walter – do you want officials at UVA and other public institutions in Va, answering to the AG for their decisions?

          3. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Well…since it is the law…yes.
            The AG is the legal officer for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
            UVA is an instrumentality of the Commonwealth of Virginia (that is currently being run contrary to its purposes and against the desires of, I believe, a substantial majority of the Commonwealth’s citizens). Therefore, that legal officer reports to the AG.
            And this appointment is far more straight down the line than Heaphy’s was.

            It is foolish to expect politicians to not be politicians, but Herring was more politician than legal officer.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            So, folks that are appointed, report to those that appointed them rather than the leader of the organization they were appointed to?

            Would you have expected Herring’s (or future Dem AGs) appointments to report to them instead of UVA leadership?

            So you support the same approach no matter whether D or R ?

          5. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            That is a rhetorical question…right?
            Yes. I support the same approach whether D or R. It is a legal position. Not an academic one.
            Suppose you handle the Walmart account for Coke and actually live in Bentonville (I met that guy once). You report to Coke, even though you “live” at Walmart.

          6. LarrytheG Avatar

            No, not really. Normally, the head of the agency, university is the leader and directs staff. Some staff may be appointed, recommended but they’d still report to the agency head. Otherwise, who are they actually working for? These kinds of folks are usually called liaisons – and they are not really staff and not privy to a lot of staff communications and collaboration.

            So you do think this position is more of a liaison that actually on staff?

          7. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            I lived this situation as general counsel of a public company.
            I was for THE COMPANY.
            So to whom did I owe my ultimate liability? What if the CEO was doing something wrong? I owed my duty to the owners, the shareholders ultimately.
            And, in the recent Covid stuff, I would have been fired because I would have refused to obey illegality. In my reading of the law, the mandate was illegal (because it was) and the Nuremberg Code. So I would have been fired, but I also would have been a whistleblower, so, maybe, maybe, years down the road, I would “win” a lawsuit, but would never have been made whole, which is why so many people refused to stand up. Their livelihoods. This was immoral to the extreme – forcing people to participate in a medical experiment.

          8. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            ” You cannot prove a shred of evidence that University Counsel have not or will not channel to the AG.”

            Again, you exercise argument from ignorance. Clearly Fordham isn’t worth the money when it comes to Law.

            You have zero understanding of the topic and when it explicitly explained to you, you throw a bunch of words at a computer screen that say nothing of substance. This seems to be your SOP, as you do it over and over again. However, seeing as your too much of coward to address me I’ll just keep taking you to task.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    So, we’re touting this guys experience with university health systems and then ruminating about how he will be involved with the University side and the BOV?

    which is it?

    I would expect that long before now, the Medical side and the Academic side had some level of operational separation and the Medical side likely has a person who directs that side as Ryan does the academic side.

    How this guy “fits” into the scheme of things is not entirely clear and especially so if his expertise is on the Medical side.

    So this is the problem with partisan stuff… it becomes the focus and if the intent of the AG and Youngkin is a wider, more involved role on the academic side, it seems a bit of a stretch.

    he knows University Medical Systems. He’s probably good at that no doubt but on the academic and political side is he their man?

    If that is the intent, it seems a confused move.

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