With the in-person celebration of Seton Hill University’s graduating class of 2020 and 2021 in June 2021, the private Catholic university earned the opportunity, like so many educational institutions across the world, to pat itself on the back.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented the most challenging teaching and learning environment in modern history. In the face of continually evolving health and safety standards, Seton Hill provided another crop of eager and educated future professionals to the world.
For Vice President and General Counsel Imogene Cathey, it’s unlikely to be a year that she will ever forget. Cathey came to Seton Hill in 2015, hired initially as the first general counsel in the university’s history. While building out the extended office of the general counsel, Cathey helped build out expertise in academic and corporate governance, personnel and employment, and real estate and zoning matters.
With the promotion to vice president in 2018, the GC’s duties expanded exponentially to encompass not only the office of the general counsel but also human resources, payroll, Title IX, and compliance.
The promotion certainly wasn’t in name only. The realignment has reconfigured related functions in a way consistent with best practices as Cathey continues to evolve legally sustainable institutional policies as well as practices.
Seton Hill is not the GC’s first foray into education. She spent six years as assistant general counsel at the University of Florida before assuming general counsel duties at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Cathey has a wide breadth of expertise including public-private partnerships, university policies and procedures, ethical obligations and conflict of interest concerns, athletics and regulatory compliance, and employment law.
The elevation of Cathey’s role has required a flexible approach to attend to what has been a series of urgent duties—especially in the last year and a half. From helping manage the university’s COVID-19 response all the way through to vaccination sites in the spring of 2021, Cathey has been ensuring that the university acts with best practices and nimble efficiency in a year unlike any other.
Along with providing legal guidance, Cathey also helped revamp and relaunch the continually evolving COVID-19 policies online to be as easily accessible as possible. From a legal perspective, it was also incumbent on Cathey to ensure that while many may have wished for mandatory vaccinations from the virus once they were available, the university had to balance religious and medical exemptions as well as the rights of the student and faculty population.
The GC was able to succeed on the university’s behalf, all-the-while working with a lean in-house office. With a dedicated staff attorney and part-time office clerks and interns, the general counsel also employs a modest budget for outside counsel from West Virginia firm Jackson Kelly.
Cathey has also taken on an involved role in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at Seton Hill. Given a leadership style that emphasizes relationship-building and approachability, Cathey’s “tackle a problem before it becomes a problem” style of communication is a welcome addition to DEI initiatives that can often be met with confusion or misunderstanding.
Outside of office hours, Cathey has also worked on behalf of vulnerable communities. She has worked with the United Way of Greater Greensboro where she was a member of the African American Leadership Initiative as well as the Women’s Leadership Steering Committee. Cathey served as director of legal affairs for the Gainesville, Florida-based PASSAGE Family Church.
Cathey’s commitment to helping Seton Hill University weather 2020 wasn’t a one-person job. Given her incredible breadth of responsibility, it’s undeniable that she was a linchpin in ensuring that the college was able to enjoy commencement exercises for its latest class of graduates.