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In Oregon, the Drama Continues

The University of Oregon has ousted its general counsel after several weeks of turmoil surrounding a controversial buyout of its former athletic director.

On Thursday, Oregon’s president, Richard Lariviere, reassigned Melinda Grier, the university’s general counsel since 1998, to an instructor position at Oregon’s law school, and said her contract would not be renewed when it expires next year.

The controversy has centered on the departure of Mike Bellotti, who apparently received a $2.3-million buyout from the university after announcing last month that he would take a job as an ESPN analyst. Mr. Bellotti never signed a contract spelling out the terms of his $975,000 salary — or the buyout, a situation Mr. Lariviere has called a “surprising fact.”

It’s unusual for a university’s top lawyer to lose his or her job over an athletics scandal. The most recent one that comes to mind was in 2008 at the University of Iowa. There, the university’s president fired the general counsel, along with a vice president, amid accusations that the two officials had bungled the university’s response to a student who said she had been sexually assaulted by two football players.

University lawyers often bump up against an athletics world where speed and money trump legal deliberation. When it comes to hiring elite coaches, for instance, many legal safeguards used in high-level hirings elsewhere on the campus are shelved during a whirlwind courtship. Contracts aren’t always signed, and sometimes a memorandum of understanding is all there is.

At Oregon, Mr. Lariviere has not said whether the unwritten contract and buyout led to Ms. Grier’s departure. But the timing and the circumstances suggest that they did. Ms. Grier, in a statement, said as much: “I want to emphasize that it was not my role to negotiate the terms of Mike Bellotti’s contract as athletic director.”

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