By Sharon Tubbs
Reid Cox joined the Union Board in 1994 on a mission to diversify the university’s lecture series. He saw a slate of liberal speakers gracing the stage at Alumni Hall but no voices that reflected his views.
“There was a concern that the Board was ignoring more conservative speakers,” he recently recalled from his home in Mesa, Arizona, near Phoenix.
Today Cox works as field counsel for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), overseeing the massive agency’s legal issues in Arizona and Utah. His work is littered with lessons learned 28 years ago when he became UB’s director of Debates and Issues, then subsequently the Lectures director in 1995.
In the decades since, Cox has worked as an attorney for the federal government, a role that required listening to differing perspectives and arguing cases from various standpoints. The work highlighted the value of opposing points of view. One-sided perspectives have only led to a starkly divided society, he said.
“The biggest thing that I worry about in our country—and I worry about it just as much, if not more, on college campuses—is a level of tolerance,” Cox said, adding that he means tolerance on all sides. “What I’m talking about is that people need to get out of the thought that people who don’t think like me are either wrong, or immoral, or shouldn’t be heard.”
Cox said he’s worked both sides of the coin. While a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, for instance, Cox represented Sikhs who charged religious employment discrimination in New York. But in another case, he represented white male police officers and firefighters for a reverse discrimination claim in Indiana. The officers contended they were passed over while the city unjustly promoted people of color and women who ranked lower on scored promotions lists. Cox later moved to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where he became the senior litigation attorney and was involved in dozens of cases that went before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The experiences and life in Washington DC were exhilarating, but Cox eventually felt a void that only the familiar surroundings of his native Arizona could fill. So, in 2018, he stayed with Homeland Security but transferred to another job out West. Today, he’s the “legal face of TSA in Arizona and Utah.” (TSA is a component of the Department of Homeland Security.)
“There’s never a dull day,” Cox said. He regularly handles employee disciplinary matters, issues of the TSA’s legal authority in airports, policy advice, ethics, and prosecuting wayward travelers and airline carriers for violating security regulations.
TSA workers have no authority to make arrests or file criminal charges, but Cox does try defendants in civil court proceedings. In April, for instance, a traveler tried to scurry from the checkpoint, despite a TSA officer’s order to step aside for additional screening. Two other security officers spotted the man and blocked his way. The disobedient act yielded a charge of “interference with screening.” The man denied the charge, so Cox arranged for a hearing before an administrative judge. Witnesses were called and security footage played in the courtroom, amounting to what Cox called a “strong case.” The man could face a fine of $5,000 or more. (Cox said he still awaited the judge’s ruling at the time of this writing.)
Cox loves his job and the variety it brings to his daily life. Still, law is not his only passion.
The “love of my life,” Cox says, is his 80-pound Cane Corso named after an acclaimed Hungarian composer. Check Cox’s Facebook page for a broad selection of photos featuring the Italian breed mastiff, Kodály (pronounced KOE-die). Cox speaks proudly of Kodály’s successful walking streak. Since October 2020, Cox said he and his best friend have walked the neighborhood and local parks daily to the tune of more than 2,500 miles. To those who know Cox well, neither his closeness with Kodály nor the dog’s name come as a surprise. Cox originally enrolled in IU to hone his craft as a skilled cellist. Zoltán Kodály composed the Sonata for Solo Cello.
Cox’s own diverse interests undergird his advice for current UB directors. Diversity includes introverts and extroverts, the artistic, as well as the scientific, Cox said. Not every aspect of a diverse community can be part of the Board, but directors should find a way to think outside of their own mindsets. He advises them to self-reflect and ask themselves: “Have we adopted too narrow of a vision of who we serve? Are their portions that we’re not serving? … Are we programming for everyone, or are we programming for who we are, either collectively or individually?”