Anil Gollahalli, '00: Taking a Chicago Education Back to School

Appeared in Record issue: 
Fall 2009

Last year Anil Gollahalli, '00, was named Vice President of the University of Oklahoma (OU) and General Counsel to the OU Board of Regents. That puts him at the center of responsibilities for three separate universities on five campuses teeming with nearly thirty-five thousand students and more than three thousand faculty members.

Some of the issues he handles include tenure and employment matters, National Collegiate Athletic Association compliance, free speech rights on campus, and intellectual property concerns related to the commercialization of technologies developed at the university. To help him with all that, he has a staff of eighteen attorneys, and there are another seventy-five staff members in various departments who provide advice regarding the specifics of certain issues.

The university is not just big and complex, it is rapidly expanding in size and prestige. Since former U.S. Senator David Boren became its president in 1994, more than a billion dollars in construction projects have been completed or begun, research funding has more than tripled, and OU has been ranked among the top public universities in the country in terms of education quality per tuition dollar. Gollahalli says, "Virtually everything I do here is multifaceted, where I am serving as a liaison among many constituencies-students, faculty, administration, the private sector, the community, and our legislature, to name some-and I'm often interacting with several of them at the same time. It keeps me on my toes. I love it."

After Gollahalli earned a chemical engineering degree from OU in 1997, Boren (whom Gollahalli first met upon graduating from high school, when he won an award for academic excellence that Boren had initiated) was among those who strongly encouraged him to pursue his interest in law at the University of Chicago. "He told me that at Chicago I would get to sit down on a day-to-day basis with some of the most brilliant people I would ever meet, and that that experience would prepare me for whatever I wanted to do in my life. And he was right: my classmates and teachers were brilliant and accomplished, and the preparation was invaluable."

After law school he clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Lee West in Oklahoma City and then worked as an associate at two Dallas law firms, specializing in intellectual property issues. Boren appeared again in 2006, inviting him to take a job in OU's Office of Technology Development. "It was a great, irresistible opportunity," Gollahalli says, "not just because I would be working for a great leader and the work matched my interests and training, but because my parents live in Norman [where OU is located] and my wife's family is in Tulsa."

The next year he was named Vice President for Technology Development. In that role, one of his primary duties was to bring university faculty members together with private companies to develop profitable applications of the scholars' research. His Law School training helped him succeed, he says. "That job requires bridging two fundamentally different cultures, academe and industry, and there's nothing like a Chicago Law School education to help you handle two key aspects of that challenge. First, you have to be able to really understand both sides in a debate, discussion, or negotiation; and second, you have to see above and beyond the details to the bigger picture of what a collaborative solution could create and communicate that to the parties. I think I have become pretty good at doing those things, and it was definitely my law school training that helped me get there. Come to think of it," he adds, "those qualities learned at the Law School still apply every day in my role as General Counsel, too."