After spending years as a criminal prosecutor and then in private practice, Laurel Gift says her new role as assistant vice chancellor for compliance, investigations and ethics is a dream job.
“The opportunity to be working on a university campus around young people learning is really exciting to me,” said Gift, who joined Pitt in early April and heads the new Office of Compliance, Investigation and Ethics.
Gift noted offices of this nature are becoming more common in higher education, naming the University of Illinois Ethics and Compliance Office as one example. “We’re here to help with and conduct investigations and to serve as a resource to the University,” she said.
Gift said that she anticipates her new office will work closely with and similarly to the Office of Policy Development and Management—which also provides centralized resources and guidance to units across Pitt—while maintaining a connection to the Office of University Counsel.
“I am very pleased that Laurel has joined the University. She brings notable experience and leadership to this critical role,” said Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer of the University. “She's uniquely qualified to provide strategic guidance and oversight to our University community as we stand up this new central resource.”
One of Gift’s early missions and areas of focus at the University will be creating a handbook that will establish uniform procedures for how the University conducts investigations.
Gift noted that investigations are part of compliance—that they’re part of the checks and balances process, and are a compliance tool. In her role as assistant vice chancellor, she will serve as the privacy officer for the University and will oversee Pitt’s compliance with federal acts like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act), among others. She aims to create a compliance committee comprising members from all major responsibility centers that would meet quarterly.
“Even though (investigations) happen in different responsibility centers, we’ll have basic principles and standards that we can apply across the board and provide resources to those people who do investigations,” she said, noting the University units like the Office of Human Resources and the Title IX Office may very well continue to conduct investigations, in addition to her office.
In addition, Gift will oversee the implementation of a University-wide ethics program, which will include a code of conduct, ensuring proper internal controls are in place and annual training. After Pitt has a formalized code of ethics and a defined values statement, “we can implement a program involving annual training and robust internal controls to make sure we are catching potential issues before they become a more significant problem,” she said.
Before joining Pitt, Gift served as senior deputy attorney general for the Office of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania and as an Allegheny County assistant district attorney. After clerking for a judge, Gift went into private practice where she focused on internal investigations and litigation and worked with clients such as school districts and nonprofits.
Gift said that investigations can sometimes be both complex and difficult, but she believes they always have a silver lining. “Even when it seems especially problematic, I can make recommendations back to organizations that are for their health and benefit in the future. They come out of investigations stronger, more transparent, with better processes in place to prevent issues in the future.”