Longform

Fear and Groping in Boulder

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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.

Although her total payoff could be in the million-dollar range, the outcome wasn't what Boggiano wanted. "Not at all," she says. "I didn't want to be on welfare. I did want and still want to teach undergrads. I have been trained for that. I loved teaching. But I had no other choice. My lawyers have to be paid something. They carried me for months, based on the strength of my case."

Boggiano has offered to forgo her yearly stipend in return for a position at another CU campus, but Cherniack isn't optimistic about her own chances. Shortly after her settlement last fall, she met with Chan-cellor Park to seek reconsideration of her dismissal.

"I asked him why he insisted on my resignation, since I was never accused of any wrongdoing," Cherniack recalls. "He told me it wasn't anything personal. He said--I'll never forget this--because I had filed a grievance, I had created an adversarial situation that could only be resolved by my departure. He told me, 'You can't stop these idiots from doing it.' His understanding was that sexual harassment was inevitable."

Park says he doesn't recall the remark. "What I probably said was that I can't control what people do, but I expect them to behave professionally," he says.

Named as a defendant in the Miller suit himself, Park says he's legally bound not to discuss the specifics of other cases, including Cherniack's. But he insists he's not reluctant to punish faculty or staff for stepping out of line; as vice chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, he succeeded in firing a tenured professor over a harassment issue. Such proceedings are difficult but not impossible, he says, even though cases that begin with consensual relationships between faculty members can be tough to sort out.

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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