The Fogel Fallout | Fair Game | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Fair Game

The Fogel Fallout

Fair Game


Published June 1, 2011 at 10:20 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

A six-year relationship between Rachel Kahn-Fogel, wife of University of Vermont President Dan Fogel, and a UVM fundraiser was a sideshow alongside the drama between Kahn-Fogel and top school officials.

A public records request that generated more than 900 pages of emails from the university revealed strained personal relations between Kahn-Fogel and other top officials. These interpersonal dynamics played a role in Kahn-Fogel’s announcement last fall that she “quit” UVM and would boycott trustee-sponsored events. President Fogel implored his wife to keep her decision quiet because he thought it might endanger his presidency.

Five and a half months later, Fogel announced he would be stepping down in 2012.

Was Fogel pushed out? Several current and former UVM employees have spoken with Seven Days — on condition of anonymity — in hopes of shedding light on that question.

The consensus is that the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) was not an easy place to work for staffers who ran afoul of Kahn-Fogel. Since Ian DeGroot, a DAR vice president, left UVM in 2005 after an alleged falling out with the Fogels, several DAR vice presidents have come and gone. At least two DAR employees left with separation agreements that included nondisparagement and nondisclosure clauses.

Burlington attorney Peter Doremus represented both individuals: One was a senior UVM official at the time; the other was involved in day-to-day operations within the DAR. Doremus declined to provide names out of concern that such information could violate the legal agreements his clients made with the university.

During the period of time leading up to the departures of those two unnamed staffers, Kahn-Fogel was involved in an emotional relationship with Michael Schultz, UVM’s vice president for development and alumni relations. Schultz admitted during a divorce hearing that he had been in a nonsexual but amorous relationship with Kahn-Fogel for more than six years. Kahn-Fogel’s romantic emails — retrieved from the university email system — revealed she also lobbied Schultz’s bosses to arrange his schedule so the two could work events together.

As a result of Seven Days’ inquiries, UVM trustees have launched an investigation into the relationship between Kahn-Fogel and Schultz to determine if UVM resources were used inappropriately. They are also trying to determine whether the university did anything improper when it issued Schultz’s doctoral dissertation — titled “Elucidating the Role of the University CEO’s Spouse in Development, Alumni Relations and Fund Raising.”

What is clear from emails Kahn-Fogel sent to Schultz and a few other key UVM employees is that she didn’t feel she got enough respect — or public thanks — as UVM’s First Lady. To express her displeasure, Kahn-Fogel “quit” UVM last fall. She was upset that DAR had decided to move her closest aide, then chief of protocol and administrator of events Leslie Logan, from the executive offices in Waterman to Grasse Mount, where DAR is housed. The roles of Logan and her assistant were changing, too. They would no longer be working as closely with Kahn-Fogel.

Kahn-Fogel had played a role in planning UVM presidential and DAR events in which she and Fogel were involved, according to university officials. Her duties included designing invitations and approving guest lists, menu selection, seating and other logistics. She had no control over event spending, officials noted.

UVM removed Kahn-Fogel from what the university describes as a “volunteer” role pending the results of the internal probe.

Kahn-Fogel’s decision to give up her First Lady job was accelerated by her ill feelings toward Gary Derr, Fogel’s vice president of executive operations and chief of staff. In emails with other top UVM staff, she criticized Derr’s event-planning decisions and made fun of his spelling mistakes.

On October 2, just three weeks before the fall meeting of the UVM trustees, Kahn-Fogel informed several executive staff, including UVM provost Jane Knodell, that she was “quitting” because of Derr.

On October 4, Kahn-Fogel wrote Logan: “Dan told me not to tell anyone else what I’m doing or it could get his presidency in trouble.”

Kahn-Fogel was also upset by the trustees’ decision to grant an honorary degree to someone she disliked. The name of the recipient was blacked out in the documents UVM provided Seven Days.

“I’d so hoped to hear from you about the Honorary Degree meeting but Dan just called from the grocery store and I asked him about the meeting so I know the bad news,” Kahn-Fogel wrote to Logan on October 26, just before the trustees meeting. “One could hardly imagine a worse October for our relations with UVM than all that has happened, topped by the [redacted] nomination going forward. The bad guys win. It’s APPALLING and I’m thoroughly disgusted.”

Kahn-Fogel didn’t attend the quarterly trustees meeting or the dinner after.

After months out of the public eye, Kahn-Fogel broached the subject of “coming back to UVM” in mid-January — with some key caveats.

“I said that you and I had no instructions except that Dan and I are allowed to ask for you,” Kahn-Fogel wrote Logan on January 13. “I told him that you will help me with menus and seating and be at events and therefore I will come back to the trustee events. He said ‘good.’”

Kahn-Fogel specified that she and Logan would have to be thanked publicly at the events they organized. Derr was prohibited from working on events with them.

Two days later, Kahn-Fogel revealed another condition of her return to “work” for UVM: Derr couldn’t sit in on scheduling meetings that Kahn-Fogel attended.

“I was tired of Gary making stupid rules and decided that the First Lady has a right to ask for things in order to return to work at UVM,” Kahn-Fogel wrote.

Fogel’s Fall?

UVM President Dan Fogel rode into UVM on a controversy and could very well ride out on one.

Before Fogel arrived on campus in 2002, he and Kahn-Fogel announced they would not live in Englesby House, the presidential home at the top of College Street. Instead, the couple built a home on Lake Champlain in Colchester. UVM agreed to pay $1800 a month toward their living expenses.

The decision caused a stir in the community and on campus, as the housing allowance request coincided with a budget shortfall at UVM. The university stood by its newly hired prez.

Will they stand by him now?

UVM Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Cioffi has said publicly that Fogel did nothing wrong in regard to his wife’s relationship with Schultz and can carry out his remaining duties as president.

But at least one email from Kahn-Fogel suggests Cioffi “fired” the couple.

“Rob and [redacted] Cioffi sent us $250 to be used at Café Shelburne to ‘celebrate’ the stepping down and how Dan has handled it,” Kahn-Fogel wrote to Logan in early April 2011. “This from the man who fired us! It makes me want to puke.”

In a prepared statement, Cioffi said, “The decision to begin a presidential transition was mutual and the subject had been discussed on numerous occasions in the context of the Board’s regular reviews of the President.”

Fogel’s March 23 departure announcement was one month to the day after his wife’s name came up in a divorce trial being argued in family court.

“The first public records request that came to the University of Vermont in late April revealed issues involving my wife that were as much news to me as to others,” Fogel wrote in an email to Seven Days. “My announcement in March that I would serve only 15 more months was made without reference to — or knowledge of — those deeply personal matters. Rachel and I have had disagreements on some issues, including the timing of my decision to step down as president. This was clearly a difficult decision for her to accept.”

All in the Family

Why is former Gov. Jim Douglas, a man known for his restraint and mild manners, hawking cars for a car dealership?

“Foster’s is a third-generation family that is willing to earn your business and do their best to keep it. Dorothy and I know this because we’ve been customers of Foster Motors in Middlebury for more than 30 years. They truly are the ‘we care’ people,” Douglas gushes in a TV ad as he stands next to his trusty Dodge Neon.

Of all the dealerships in Vermont, why Foster? Simple. His wife Dorothy is part of the family. Her maiden name is Foster.

Interestingly, the Foster family also makes a cow-manure-based compost called Moo Doo. Maybe he can become their pitchman, too? A politician shoveling shit. A columnist couldn’t ask for more.

Go Ask Aristotle

The Vermont GOP is already thinking which sacrificial lamb, er, candidate, would be best suited to run against Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2012.

The leading Shumlin challengers are: Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin); Auditor Tom Salmon; and Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon. The GOP’s highest-elected official — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — is playing it safe and running for reelection.

Asked recently which one had the best chance, Scott mentioned Brian Dubie.

Really? A rematch after such a bruising campaign that left many wondering if Dubie had tarnished his good-guy image?

Don’t count him out yet.

Dubie played it coy with “Fair Game” in a recent email exchange about his 2012 political plans. He refused to answer “yes” or “no” when asked if he’s considering another run for governor. Instead, he made note of his family’s good health and a prosperous sugaring season.

So, politics isn’t on his mind?

“As Aristotle encouraged,” Dubie replied. “I think about politics every day.”

That’s comforting.