Fear and Groping in Boulder

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Even by the standards of a large public institution, the chancellor's expenditures on club memberships and entertainment (including hefty bills from Liquor Mart for alcohol served at parties and receptions) were at the high end of the scale. Although some of the expenses fell under Corbridge's regular operating budget, others were paid out of the chancellor's discretionary fund, a pool of cash available for conferences, official functions, travel and other forms of "academic enhancement."

Similar discretionary funds at a departmental and college level were the subject of a state audit last year, after it was revealed that, under Dean Middleton, the College of Arts and Sciences had entered into a series of "side letter" agreements offering additional compensation for certain academic chairs, in violation of university policy. But the chancellor's fund has escaped any outside scrutiny, even though the fund balance ranged from zero to $300,000 during the Corbridge years, with annual outlays as high as $143,000.

Many of the expenses in the chancellor's office were clearly legitimate, but other items managed to raise officials' eyebrows on occasion--such as the soaring salary of Corbridge assistant Mary Jo White, the woman whom Miller claimed had been allowed time off from work for manicures and haircuts.

White was a $33,000-a-year assistant at the time Miller started working in the chancellor's office. Today White's salary is $66,000--a 100 percent increase in eight years, although her job title remains the same.

What merited such advancement? When quizzed on the matter, Corbridge has told people that White was "valuable" to him. So valuable that, when White decided to take time off to go to law school, Corbridge not only wrote her a letter of recommendation, he arranged for an interim part-time job for her in his office--a position that didn't have to go through the usual notices and hiring procedures, because it was temporary.

So valuable that, when White finished law school, Corbridge hired her back in his office, at a substantially higher salary--because, after all, she'd gone to law school.

So valuable that, when White requested reimbursement to attend a United Nations training seminar for "international negotiators" in Switzerland, a dispute resolution conference in Canada and a meeting of Big Eight presidents in Kansas City--all in the same month--Corbridge approved each and every expense.

Several times, White accompanied Corbridge to Big Eight meetings. Other administrators thought it odd that Corbridge would bring an assistant to such gatherings when other chancellors and even university presidents seemed to manage just fine without one.

Miller's suit alleges that, after White completed law school in 1993, Corbridge attempted to hire her back at $60,000 a year as his executive assistant. Records indicate that White actually returned full-time at $58,000 a year and that she also was designated as the recipient of more than $40,000 in salary, benefits, travel and "operating expenses" from the chancellor's discretionary fund in the 1993-94 fiscal year. It's not clear from the budget documents what portion of those funds were actually received by White or how they were used, and university officials have declined to clarify the matter, citing pending litigation.

White, who still works in the chancellor's office, declined a request for an interview. Her current boss, Rod Park, also declined to comment on the case but has praised White as a highly competent staffer. In court filings, Corbridge has defended his activities and those of his staff as legitimate business expenses. Yet it's unclear how trips to Geneva, UN training sessions and law school relate to White's duties in the chancellor's office; her job description doesn't list a law degree as a requirement.

Corbridge's actions were rarely challenged by other administrators, and then only indirectly. For much of her tenure, Judith Albino had so many other battles to fight--the insurrection of the deans, negative publicity about her staffing arrangements, a deteriorating relationship with faculty and some regents--that the chancellor's office seems to have escaped her notice. According to the excerpts from Albino's deposition that were leaked to the media, CU's president didn't start raising questions about Corbridge's behavior until one of her own staffers complained of unwanted attentions from the chancellor. But even then, no written complaint ensued; one of Albino's assistants went to another administrator about the situation, who promised to speak with Corbridge about it. According to other sources, Albino brought the matter up with members of the Board of Regents during the summer of 1993 and met with an angry response from Corbridge supporters on the board.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast