Fear and Groping in Boulder

Power, politics and patronage--three reasons why CU's "zero tolerance" sexual-harassment policy could be one big nothing.

Campus politics may also have hampered efforts to resolve the situation. Shortly after Cherniack put her complaint in writing, the so-called "coup" of 1994--a well-orchestrated effort by various deans and department chairs, including Middleton and Kroll, to demand President Albino's resignation--erupted on the campus. Sources close to the case believe that Middleton was so preoccupied by the intrigues and shock waves of the resignation drive that he couldn't afford to deal with Cherniack's complaint for months.

A formal investigation wasn't launched until the summer of 1994, shortly after Cherniack filed her EEOC complaint and left the country on a research trip to China. Such proceedings are supposed to take no more than thirty days; this one took seven months. One of the difficulties was the nature of Cherniack's case, which involved a claim of a consensual relationship followed by retaliation--a situation not specifically addressed by CU's old policy. Another was Cherniack's reluctance to cooperate with the committee that had been launched in her absence.

In apparent violation of university policy, hearings were commenced without Cherniack's consent, and she decided not to participate in what she viewed as a "kangaroo court." Consequently, the only witnesses presented at the hearings were called by Kroll. Although the committee's findings have never been made public, it seems likely that the results were favorable to Kroll, since the university subsequently provided Kroll with legal representation. Early in 1995 Cherniack received a letter from Chancellor Park informing her that, since Kroll had already stepped down as chair of the department, he considered the matter resolved.

Cherniack and her attorney didn't think so. Last fall CU settled her lawsuit against Kroll, Middleton and the Board of Regents for $180,000. The university also announced a "further investigation" of Kroll's actions.

The outcome of that investigation provided an even stranger twist to the case. As part of his settlement with the university, Kroll agreed to take a one-semester leave of absence without pay. Such leaves are not uncommon at CU, and university officials have carefully avoided characterizing the action as a suspension of Kroll.

In media interviews, Cherniack has described Kroll's leave of absence as a penalty, but his attorney has another interpretation. "Paul had been through two years of extremely aggravating attention," says Neal Cohen. "He believed it was in his best interest and that of the university's that there be a cooling-off period. To view the leave of absence as discipline would be entirely inaccurate."

In fact, nothing in the settlement suggests that Kroll was found guilty of any wrongdoing; it's merely a legal release of both sides, in which the university drops its claims against Kroll in return for his dropping grievances he'd filed against Middleton, various other CU officials and CU attorneys over the multiple investigations. Even the leave of absence is tempered by the fact that the university agreed to pay for Kroll's legal fees, including the services of three private attorneys--an amount well in excess of the $14,000 previously reported in the dailies.

Left unresolved by the settlement was one of Cherniack's most explosive charges, which she presented to Middleton and again in her lawsuit--that Kroll had "falsified documents" to secure tenure for a female professor with whom he was romantically involved. Kroll has denied the allegation, and Chancellor Park says he's unaware of any investigation into the matter. No one, it seems, ever bothered to look into the charge, either to confirm it or to exonerate the parties.

Settling the suit was a Pyrrhic victory, Cherniack figures, since one condition of the settlement is that she will no longer teach at CU. Although her settlement package includes a two-year research appointment to tide her over while job-hunting, "I have been banned from the university system," she says. "I didn't have the financial resources to continue the litigation, so they succeeded in breaking me. I know that I'll never be able to get a job at the kind of university I want to teach in. Once you go to court, you're branded a troublemaker."

Banishment was also the fate of Ann Boggiano, a Boulder psychology professor. In 1987 Boggiano received the department's only unanimous tenure recommendation in more than a decade, but her relationship with certain colleagues subsequently deteriorated. Five years ago, she says, she got into a wrangle over pay equity issues with two other members of her department that escalated into accusations of plagiarism, inter-ference with her research and attacks on her integrity. Like Cherniack, Boggiano attempted to deal with her grievances internally, through Middleton and the faculty's Privilege and Tenure committee. But then-vice-chancellor Bruce Eckstrand shut down the investigation after she filed a lawsuit, apparently on the advice of CU attorneys, even though no campus policy requires such a move.

"The frustrating part was that their investigation was taking so long it would have exceeded my statute of limitations for filing suit," Boggiano says. "I didn't have the option of not filing."

In 1994, after 26 hours of depositions, the university settled Boggiano's case, agreeing to pay her $85,000 up front and $30,000 a year tax-free for life. But none of the people named in her lawsuit--including Middleton, Corbridge, psychology chair John Werner and professor Charles Judd--were formally found to have committed any harassment or retaliation, and Boggiano was required to leave her job.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help