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Former university counsel honored for service to Stanford
STANFORD -- Iris Brest, associate general counsel emerita, was awarded the Kenneth M. Cuthbertson Award for exceptional service to the university at Stanford's commencement ceremonies Sunday, June 18.
Brest, who retired from Stanford this May after a quarter-century of staff service, was honored for "being quite possibly the best university lawyer in the country, for resisting expedient solutions, taking a broad view of the greater good of the university, and for defending the rights of the individual."
She was cited for being "the keeper of the flame, the reservoir of university memory and conscience, a touchstone for truth and principle," and "for being a quiet powerhouse, the quintessential behind-the-scenes operator."
Brest earned her law degree in 1966 at Harvard. She served on the staff at Stanford continuously since 1969, with the exception of 1978-79, when she served as assistant to the counsel at Yale University.
At Stanford, she first worked as a lawyer in the Office of Development, primarily on gift, estate and tax matters. After moving to the central legal office in 1978, she concentrated primarily on faculty matters, university policy, copyright and intellectual property, student grievances, charitable tax matters and supervision of outside counsel.
She currently is general counsel for SyStemix, a biotechnology company in Palo Alto.
In nominating Brest for the award, President Emeritus Donald Kennedy wrote that "her domain included the most difficult and trying issues of academic principle."
She handled cases such as those of Stephen Mosher, an anthropology graduate student who sued Stanford for discontinuing his Ph.D. candidacy after charges of misconduct, and Norman Davies, who sued the university and individual members of the History Department after being denied tenure.
In those instances, Kennedy wrote, "Iris represented both the university and our faculty colleagues. She was not only painstaking in her pursuit of Stanford's interest, [but also] brought to these cases and many others a deep understanding of academic principle and real compassion for the faculty members involved."
In all the cases Brest handled, Kennedy wrote, she "was often able to replace anger and confusion with real understanding, because she brought to each matter a combination of personal empathy and intellectual strength."
"The value of her service to the university will probably never be known publicly, but it was inestimable," Kennedy wrote. "In this year of many significant departures [from the university staff] there will be no shortage of strong candidates for this award, but even among these . . . Iris stands out."
The Cuthbertson Award was established in 1981 by an anonymous donor as a tribute to Kenneth M. Cuthbertson, a key early architect in Stanford's long-range financial planning and fund- raising programs. He retired in 1977 as vice president for development.
Two days after receiving the award, Brest said she hadn't completely recovered from the surprise she felt about being singled out among all the Stanford staff.
"I'm extremely honored to be associated in any way with Mr. Cuthbertson, who was the vice president I worked for when I first came to Stanford," Brest said. "He is someone I respected and admired greatly."
The annual award, which is open to all members of the Stanford community, honors contributors to the goals of the university in their widest sense.
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