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Law Degree a "Boon" for University Administrator Karen Faaborg '84

Karen Kramer Faaborg ’84, like many other past and present College of Law students, was the child of a lawyer. She was born in Louisiana, but grew up in Owensboro, Ky. when her father moved the family back to his native state to start a private practice there.

“I always thought I’d like to be a lawyer, but young girls weren’t supposed to do things like that,” she said.  “This was back in the 40s and 50s.”

After attending the University of Kentucky, Faaborg enjoyed a 13-year career as a school teacher in Cincinnati. But she got a bit burnt out, she said, and began working as an arts administrator for the local Arts Consortium of Cincinnati, then located in the West End in downtown Cincinnati. “That’s kind of where I found myself,” Faaborg said, having witnessed real poverty for the first time. “I realized that there was a lot of good work to be done in this world. I came from a family of lawyers and thought maybe being a lawyer was the thing that would help me make a difference in the world.”

Faaborg did attend law school, did clerk during the summers, and did have a couple of job offers after earning her J.D. in 1984. But the Kentucky native never ended up practicing. She also never left campus.

Today, Faaborg is the executive vice president of the University of Cincinnati, essentially serving as President Gregory Williams’ chief of staff. “I help him prioritize things; I help him decide how to handle certain kinds of issues; and I get to work with him on a daily basis on, really, what are the big issues going on at the university at any given time,” Faaborg said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

She has been in this position for nearly a year, having started in this capacity on February 1, 2011. But Faaborg has been employed at the University since 1980, even during her days as a law student.

Kicking off Her Law School Career

Faaborg had been looking for a way to attend a law school, as it was going to be difficult to finance. At that time UC employees could have their law tuitions remitted. “Lo and behold I was looking in the want ads in the paper for a place to work at the University of Cincinnati and the College Conservatory of Music (CCM) was offering a position as a half-time staff person and half-time faculty member in the arts administration program and I took that job,” Faaborg said.

She began as a part-time law student, but realized it would take “forever” to finish her degree. As a result, she attended summer classes to make up for some credits and became a full-time law student. Faaborg was at a point in her life where she was “searching (and) really willing to devote all of my time to my job and my school,” she said.

Of course, the proximity of the College of Law to the CCM building, and vice versa, surely didn’t hurt. “I made many trips up and down that little driveway there,” Faaborg said.

After completing her law degree and passing the Ohio bar, she opted against pursuing a law career. During her 3L year, she had met and fallen in love with UC philosophy professor Bob Faaborg, who retired after 42 years with the department in 2010. “I married him and I was on a tenure track at the College Conservatory of Music, doing well in a teaching career there, and I thought, ‘Why would I go work 80 hours a week as a junior associate in some firm in town when I could have the life I had come to love at the University of Cincinnati?’” Faaborg commented.

So, indeed, Faaborg stayed with CCM and eventually became its associate dean, soon discovering her “love for university administration.”

Navigating Her Career At UC

After several years in that role, Faaborg spent eight years as UC’s vice provost for Faculty Affairs. In 2008, she became the university’s chief human resources officer. “I’ve done a lot of stuff here. My law degree has been a wonderful boon to me, all the way through,” Faaborg said. In her faculty affairs role, for example, Faaborg was in charge of the administration of contracts with the faculty union, which she noted as involving a large part of “protection of due process rights of the faculty.”

“Having a law degree gave me a tremendous amount of comfort and good feeling about what I was doing; being fair to people and making sure that we were compliant with our contract agreement,” she said.

In her current role as the executive vice president of UC, Faaborg is enjoying working with President Williams and his staff. In particular, helping President Williams work on UC’s branding has been fun, she said.

“The University of Cincinnati is actually in a very dynamic and interesting period in its life,” Faaborg said, citing UC’s increased admissions standards and the rise in national reputation as a research institution. “I think we’re known well locally, I think we’re known as a great co-op school. (But) the story we want to tell now is that we are among the top research institutions in this country; that we are competitive with and in the same league with schools that are members of the American Association of Universities (AAU).”

In 2010, the Chronicle of Higher Education mentioned UC, alongside the likes of Boston University and Dartmouth College, as “research heavyweights” on the cusp of possible admittance into the prestigious AAU – which is comprised of just 59 U.S. and two Canadian research institutions.

Looking to the Future

Faaborg said she is “currently as happy as I’ve ever been,” and has no plans to retire, even after more than 30-plus years at the University of Cincinnati. “I’m 70 but I’m having about the best time I’ve ever had,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of energy and I feel good. I’ll stay here as long its fun.”

Whenever Faaborg does decide to retire, the self-proclaimed New York Times crossword puzzle addict will likely find a non-profit to work with, she said. Indeed, in recent years Faaborg has made significant contributions to the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and plans to be more civically involved in the future. “I’m at the stage in my life where I can be,” she said.

On a more personal level, Faaborg never had any kids of her own, but took on the role of stepmother for Bob’s daughter, Erica, when she was six years old. Interestingly enough, Erica Faaborg is a 2006 graduate of the College of Law who is now clerking in the Sixth Circuit for Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz – one of Karen Faaborg’s law school classmates.

Although Faaborg is working in administration, rather than in a legal profession, she still remains fond of her law school education. “My days in the University of Cincinnati College of Law were some of the most stimulating days of my career,” she said. “I loved it and met many friends that I still stay in touch with there, and had many wonderful professors.”

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13