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University of Montana President Royce Engstrom announced Thursday that David Aronofsky, the university’s chief legal counsel for the past 18 years, will retire at the end of 2012.

The university’s announcement came in an email sent to the campus just before noon. It was the second such retirement announcement this week among Engstrom’s cabinet. Bob Duringer, who has served as vice president of administration and finance for more than 11 years, also announced plans to retire on Dec. 31.

All are discussions and changes Engstrom planned for the second year of his presidency, and were not prompted by the announcement this year of three major investigations of UM, its football program and its handling of sexual assaults, he said.

“The events of the last five or six months have resulted in me stepping back from that to focus my attention on other things,” Engstrom said. “I’m now at a point where I want to move forward making the kind of changes that will help me move the university’s agenda forward.”

It’s possible that more changes among the president’s chief administrators are forthcoming, he said.

“These are mutual discussions,” Engstrom said. “You have to have discussions with your leadership about what the best role is for everybody.”

Upon his retirement as chief legal counsel, Aronofsky, 64, will remain employed at UM for an additional 18 months, turning his attention to international programming. The details have not yet been ironed out, Aronofsky said Thursday. The decision was made quickly.

“This last semester has been a challenge for him, as it has been for so many others,” Engstrom said. “We’ve come to a mutual realization that it was time. We approached each other in a mutual discussion about moving toward retirement.”

Aronofsky inquired about pursuing his longtime passion for international education.

Aronofsky teaches courses in public international law, international business and trade law, and an advanced legislative course every other fall. He teaches summer courses in Uruguay on international business transactions and dispute resolution, and has lectured and taught extensively in China for the past nine years.

“As you can tell, international education is part of who I am, and have been and want to be,” Aronofsky said.

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From a systemwide perspective, the recent changes among the UM president’s top administrators are not surprising, said Kevin McRae, the state Board of Regents’ associate commissioner for communications.

“(Royce) has not made any significant changes to the leadership team that he inherited,” McRae said. “It’s not surprising ... as we look across the system, a relatively new president will have some decisions to make in solidifying the leadership team. Sometimes those decisions are made mutually and equally between a new leader and member of the team. Sometimes the scale is tipped one way or another. Each one of the examples we’re talking about are not identical and have different balances.”

Several weeks ago on a flight back from China, Aronofsky said he began to ponder the idea of moving toward more involvement in UM’s international programming.

“It’s a question of wanting to spend my time and energy on something I feel passionate about,” he said. “I’ve been at it a long time. Before I came here, I was practicing international law and international education work as a private attorney. That’s how I started was in international higher education. You could say I’m going back to my roots.”

Once UM has reassessed Aronofsky’s new duties, they’ll re-evaluate his salary. Currently, Aronofksy earns $101,096 for his work as UM’s chief legal counsel and receives a $23,000 teaching stipend. The university will continue to turn to Aronofsky for legal advice during the 18 months, as needed.

After that time, Aronofsky envisions retiring altogether, having served 20 years at UM.

He has served as the university’s attorney since 1994. Aronofsky worked as an attorney with a Washington, D.C., law firm before coming to UM. He was selected for the job from a pool of 80 applicants.

Claudia Denker, UM’s associate legal counsel and research compliance officer, will assume the responsibilities of chief legal counsel beginning in January 2013.

UM does not yet know whether it will conduct a search for Aronofsky’s replacement. Rather, the university will re-evaluate the duties and workload of three offices, all of which report directly to the president: Office of Legal Counsel, the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, and the internal audit division.

Lucy France, director of the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, also is a licensed attorney. Engstrom is looking at whether it’s possible to consolidate some of the offices for efficiency purposes, McRae said.

Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at chelsi.moy@missoulian.com.

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