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Washington — Wayne State University said Tuesday it is creating a center named after retired Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, focused on studying legislative oversight and holding government agencies accountable.

The school said it will create the Levin Center at the Wayne State University Law School in honor of the state’s longest-serving senator, who retired in January after a record six terms. Levin said in a Detroit News interview Tuesday he will teach a class in the fall — and had held talks with two other Michigan universities about teaching.

“It is really important that oversight be conducted not for partisan reasons but in order to improve the operation of government,” Levin said. “This center is going to focus on the legislative process in general but it is going to look at the responsibility of any legislative branch to use its oversight responsiblity for the public good.”

Levin chaired the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in the Senate for more than a decade, working on bipartisan investigations — especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. He looked at the role of troubled banks, credit rating agencies and U.S. regulatory agencies — and the investigations helped shaped the major financial reform legislation known as Dodd-Frank.

Levin announced Monday he is joining a Detroit law firm on a part-time basis as senior counsel. He will not lobby.

Wayne State officials said they’re excited to have Levin.

“We are extremely proud to be launching the Levin Center at Wayne Law. It will be a living tribute to Senator Levin’s ideals, integrity, leadership and commitment to public service,” said Jocelyn Benson, WSU’s law school dean. “As Detroit’s public law school, Wayne Law seeks to instill in our students a commitment to public service and high ethical standards. Who better to learn that from than Senator Levin?”

WSU President M. Roy Wilson said Levin’s fellow senators showed their high regard for him as he left office.

“When Senator Levin retired from the U.S. Senate, his colleagues called him ‘the best lawyer in the entire Senate,’ a ‘senator’s senator,’ and ‘Mr. Integrity,’” Wilson said. “Senator Levin will be an inspiration to our students and faculty.”

Levin’s investigations into the bankrupt energy firm Enron helped led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which strengthened U.S. financial reporting and accounting rules.

Often, Levin’s investigators would spend six months or a year or more subpoenaing documents and interviewing witnesses in private before holding hearings.

The center plans to hold events around the Church Committee — the Senate panel in the mid-1970s that reviewed U.S. intelligence abuses, including assassination attempts against foreign leaders.

Levin, 80, said he is staying busy since leaving the Senate in December and isn’t missing life in the Senate.

“Everybody advised me to keep busy once you retire — I’d think I’d probably follow that advice if nobody gave it to me,” Levin said. “I’m blessed. I have a healthy family — it’s scattered a bit, which means you have to travel.”

Levin has three daughters and six grandkids — in Michigan, Pittsburgh and near New York. He pledges to spend at least half of his time with his family despite his new commitments.

He has no plans to write a book but is working to complete an oral history with the Senate historian’s office.

Levin isn’t staying in Washington and plans to sell his Capitol Hill home once he find a larger place in Detroit. He said he is having some trouble finding a bigger place in Detroit given the strong demand for housing near Lafayette Park, where he has an apartment.

Levin plans to teach a course a semester at WSU — the first one this fall will look at the U.S. tax code.

“It will focus on the way the tax code is supposed to work,” Levin said. He has denounced efforts by companies to avoid paying U.S. taxes — especially through setting up companies abroad in lower tax areas or acquiring a smaller firm abroad and shifting its headquarters.

Eugene Driker, a senior partner at the Detroit law firm of Barris, Sott, Denn and Driker, will chair the advisory board of the Levin Center. The board also will lead the creation of an endowment at the university funded by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations that wish to support the center’s mission.

“For five decades, Carl Levin has personified what it means to be a committed public servant. By transmitting his wisdom and experience to others, his influence on public policy will be felt for generations,” Driker said. “This Center will bring great distinction to Wayne State and to Detroit, on whose behalf Senator Levin has worked tirelessly his entire life.”

In addition to serving as chairman of the center, Levin will be joining the faculty at Wayne Law as the school’s distinguished legislator in residence.

The Levin Center at Wayne Law will initially focus on four areas: workshops and training sessions, academic coursework, national forums and programming and conduct and publish research.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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