Anthony J. Franken has been the named the new general counsel for USD. After visiting USD and meeting staff and students, Franken was selected from three top candidates.
Franken, USD alumnus and former chief legal advisor for Gov. Daugaard, will begin work in October. As general counsel, he will advise the university on legal issues and act as a liaison between the university and the South Dakota Board of Regents.
In an email interview with The Volante, Franken said he was pleased to be offered a position at his former university.
“I have a great love of learning, so working for an institution of higher education has always interested me. My wife and I both attended graduate school at USD and thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vermillion, so it is a university and community that we are fond of,” Franken said. “When the position came open, it struck me as an opportunity to take on a challenging and rewarding role for an institution I love.”
After receiving his Juris Doctor (JD) from USD, he became the law clerk to Chief Justice David Gilbertson before practicing as a private attorney in Pierre.
From 2016 to present, Franken has served as the general counsel for Daugaard.
Daugaard recently tweeted his support of Franken accepting the position at USD.
“Congrats to AJ Franken. He’s been a key member of my team as general counsel and will be a great addition at USD!” Daugaard said.
Franken said the interview process was welcoming.
“I had the opportunity to come to campus and meet with dozens of university stakeholders. I enjoyed learning about their challenges and ways in which I could help,” he said.
Matt Yetter, a Student Government Association senator and political science, criminal justice, and history major, said Franken’s position will look different than the legal counsel under former President Jim Abbott.
“There hasn’t been a traditional general counsel here at USD. Jim (Abbott) also had a JD,” said Yetter, “Now the university is moving in a different direction where they have someone who’s ingrained in the university.”
Unlike Abbott’s legal background, USD President Sheila Gestring’s focus has been in finance, making Franken’s position helpful to her work with university legal issues.
“We are excited to have A.J. Franken fill this critical position at USD,” said Gestring in a news release, “A.J. has experience navigating complex legal issues through his work in the governor’s office, and has been active in encouraging the state of South Dakota to think proactively about legal risks.”
Franken believes his position will help students.
“I think the role of an attorney, especially the role of general counsel, is that of a problem solver,” Franken said. “I hope to help resolve legal issues as they arise and help the university think proactively and strategically about legal risks, so that it can focus on better serving students and providing the best education possible.”
Yetter also looks forward to the legal guidance Franken will bring to USD.
“For a long time, USD and SGA hasn’t benefited from the best legal guidance of the university in the sense that we haven’t had any,” Yetter said. “I think having an in-house general counsel may allow USD’s student government and other students to benefit from increased legal guidance in regards to helping policy makers craft policy.”
Originally from Watertown, Franken received his BA in Government and International Affairs from Augustana College and a JD from the University of South Dakota School of Law. Franken said he is excited to start his new position.
“Although I have done work for higher education institutions while in private practice and have worked with the Board of Regents on various issues over the past few years, working full time in a university setting will be new for me,” he said.