Thomas Knudsen Cal Lutheran’s new appointed general counsel


Photo contributed by Thomas Knudsen

Thomas Knudsen is ready to take on new general counsel responsibilities.

Melodie Truchi, Reporter

California Lutheran University has hired Thomas Knudsen to serve as the general counsel for the school. 

“I am the Inaugural General Council to California Lutheran university. I started here on January the 18th, so just a few weeks ago. I serve as the Chief Legal Officer for the university, so kind of assisting in a variety of capacities. Anytime there are legal issues or business decisions that have to be made I assist in those. I also serve as one of the cabinet members for President Lori Varlotta,” Knudsen said.

Previously, Cal Lutheran University has not had anyone fulfill this position. 

“Cal Lutheran has been interested in hiring a general counsel for several years. We had hoped to bring someone on board last year but with Covid-related issues taking precedence we delayed the search process by a full year,” President Lori Varlotta said.

Sharon Docter, professor at Cal Lutheran University, said Knudsen’s role requires him to accomplish a large number of responsibilities. 

“The General Counsel at most universities provides legal advice to the university on a wide range of issues, such as litigation, contracts, employment matters and other issues,” Docter said.

Varlotta said it was important for them to hire someone with experience in the field. 

“Mr. Knudsen had litigation experience at a highly reputable law firm plus significant in-house experience working in higher education,” Varlotta said.

Knudsen said he previously worked at Pepperdine University where he was one of three deputy general counsel’s, so when Cal Lutheran offered him a position with the title as general counsel, he felt that it was the right decision to make. Although there was no specific incident that brought him on the job, Maria Kohnke, director of Academic Services, said having Knudsen on campus will benefit the university. 

“What it should allow us to do is to be able to get answers quicker, at least from the perspective of how I have always interacted with the university council,” Kohnke said.

Kohnke said the university was always contracting with someone on the outside so there was a little bit of delay and a lot of times if it’s a question related to students they need a quick response. 

“Having general counsel actually on staff will allow us to resolve and have answers to questions faster which will better serve students,” Kohnke said.

Knudsen’s job requires him to facilitate and assist several  different departments on campus. 

“Yes, he will work with many departments on campus including but not limited to Human Resources, Student Affairs, Title IX, Athletics, Campus Safety,” said Varlotta.

Only being a few weeks into his work, Knudsen has been working on contracts with the Los Angeles Rams and contracts intended to benefit students. He’s assisted in Human Resources, has been involved in matters related to student affairs, and participated in conversations about COVID-19 and its impacts on universities. He’s also reviewed policies and NCA compliance. 

One of Knudsen’s main roles is to make sure everyone conforms to the regulations higher education requires. Alongside keeping up with the regulations he believes his work is very relationship driven.

Knudsen points out an interesting statistic about the importance of higher education regulations.

“There is a belief that higher education is actually the second most regulated industry after health care in the entire United States, so we have to confirm with what the department of education wants us to do, what the state of California tells us to do, and what our accreditors tell us to do,” Knudsen said.

With the importance of regulations in higher education President Varlotta said she is assured Knudsen will stay organized complying with the different rules and regulations. 

“Mr. Knudsen will play a key role in ensuring the university stays in compliance with the laws and regulations that affect higher education,” Varlotta said.

Knudsen will keep the cabinet informed on changes to current laws and regulations and introduce the cabinet to new ones that are passed. 

“He will review contracts with vendors and organizations with whom we seek to partner and review our own policies to ensure they align with state and federal laws. He will also serve as a strategy partner who helps us mitigate risks,” Varlotta said.

Lastly, President Varlotta said she is happy with Knudsen’s work in his short time being here so far. 

“I am very happy to have Mr. Knudsen on board. He has only been at Cal Lu for three weeks; but he hit the ground rolling,” Varlotta said. 

Varlotta has a lot of hope for Knudsens future here at Cal Lutheran, and wants faculty and staff to get to know him.

“He’s a great addition to the senior leadership team called the ‘cabinet.’ I hope faculty and staff reading this article will make a point of talking to him and getting to know him,” Varlotta said.