Rachel Kahn-Fogel's relationship with a top University of Vermont official violated no university policies and broke no state harassment laws. But her role in university fund-raising — and the preferential treatment she and her husband, UVM President Dan Fogel, provided to some staff — created "an environment negatively affecting morale."
That's the key conclusion of a report issued today that wraps up a months-long investigation into the activities of Kahn-Fogel (pictured) and other top university officials. UVM released the report today following a brief, closed-door session of the board of trustees.
"With respect to this matter, I want to express both my regret that this situation was allowed to continue for as long as it did, and my confidence that we will effectively address these types of issues going forward," said UVM Board of Trustees Chairman Rob Cioffi in announcing the report's results. "Human error and fallibility will always be with us. In an educational community, it is important that we learn from our mistakes and take appropriate corrective action to avoid them in the future, for the benefit of the entire university community."
After the meeting, Cioffi told reporters that he's not sure the board could have acted sooner than it did, though he did admit that it's likely some board members knew some of the details regarding the internal strife between Kahn-Fogel and some staff.
"I don't think the board was completely unaware. People may have been aware of individual pieces of this, but it took this internal review to show the overall picture," said Cioffi. He also admitted that some people likely left the university as a result of the negative morale, or had their job duties altered.
Cioffi said the internal review did look at how much these early separations from UVM cost the university, but he couldn't provide a dollar figure. Nor did UVM reveal just how many people left UVM's employment as a result of the negative work environment.
UVM launched its investigation following Seven Days’ inquiries into Kahn-Fogel's influence over the doctoral studies and day-to-day employment of Michael Schultz, the school's associate vice president for development and alumni relations. The university's investigation focused on whether, as a result of the relationship, UVM resources were used inappropriately or UVM workplace policies were violated.
UVM also announced today that Schultz resigned from UVM and accepted a severance agreement (Details on that below).
Read Chairman Cioffi's statement.
Read the full Board of Trustees Report on Reviews August 10, 2011.
The report focused on three key areas:
• Whether the acceptance of a doctoral dissertation authored by Schultz occurred in a manner consistent with the customary standards and procedures of the Graduate College;
• Whether travel and business-related expenditures for President Fogel and his wife, and others, were properly incurred and documented in view of university requirements; and,
• Whether personnel actions were taken with respect to university events planning and development office staff in a manner consistent with legal and policy requirements.
Previously, UVM concluded that there were "no irregularities" related to Schultz's dissertation,“Elucidating the Role of the University CEO’s Spouse in Development, Alumni Relations and Fund Raising.”
Today's six-page report — conducted both by internal UVM staff as well as the law firm of Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew — found no illicit wrongdoing, but did offer some recommendations to avoid similar situations from occurring in the future. Chief among the recommendations is to clearly define the role a presidential spouse should play on campus and as part of the overall executive team.
"Dinse found that as a result of the ambiguity surrounding Mrs. Kahn-Fogel's role, a number of personnel actions related to the staffing of the president and his wife were made based upon the personnel preferences of the Kahn-Fogels, such as comfort level with specific individuals, and not upon an objective assessment of the employees' skills and demonstrated abilities," the report concluded. "Employees favored by the Kahn-Fogels were perceived by others to be protected and advanced by them. This environment negatively affected morale in the development office and created ongoing distractions from the pursuit of the fundraising objectives of the university."
The report also found that none of the workplace contact between Kahn-Fogel and Schultz constituted a "hostile work environment," though it did conclude that her conduct was "clearly inappropriate and imprudent." The report also cleared Schultz of any wrongdoing.
The report also found that $151 of university funds were misspent by either Fogel, Kahn-Fogel or a key aide, Leslie Logan. In all cases, the money was spent on meals that exceeded UVM's daily allowance during out-of-state travel. The money has since been repaid.
Aside from defining the role of the presidential spouse, the trustees also directed UVM to strengthen its oversight of employee and volunteer reimbursements and enact a new campus-wide workplace policy that ensures employees can bring forward complaints without fear of retaliation — even if the complaint involves a senior UVM official.
The trustees established an ad hoc committee to ensure that the report's recommendations are implemented. That committee will be chaired by Rep. Bill Botzow (D-Pownal). Also on the committee will be Mark Young, Frank Cioffi, David Daigle and Rep. Joan Lenes (D-Shelburne). That committee is expected to come back with a draft proposal detailing the role of a presidential spouse by October, with the goal of a final set of guidelines established by year's end.
As noted in this week's "Fair Game" Botzow was the co-author of a "Dear Colleagues" email signed by all seven sitting legislative trustees and sent to their fellow legislators on Monday. The email was an attempt to respond to criticism from fellow legislators that Fogel's severance package was exorbitant.
In recognition of the growing outrage over Fogel's severance package — which adds up to the equivalent of more than $35,400 a month for 17 months — the trustees today ordered a review of executive compensation at the university. That will be conducted by a subcommittee of the board. The review will focus not just on presidential compensation, but compensation of other top administrators as well.
"I recognize that presidential compensation has been on people’s minds lately in light of Dan Fogel’s resignation and severance arrangements. Certainly I have heard a significant amount of anger, frustration, and second-guessing around this situation, and I completely understand the reasons for those views," said Cioffi. "I recognize that it’s a lot of money, but in the national marketplace for university presidents it is not at all out of line. The board made a very careful, deliberative business decision in the best interests of the university, which is our fiduciary responsibility."
Cioffi reiterated that when Fogel announced he was stepping down earlier this year, that the board committed to paying him through June 2013 — a total of 24 months' pay — regardless if he stepped down early. If Fogel had been fired, that would not have been the case. In the end, Cioffi noted, UVM is only paying Fogel 17 months' severance.
Cioffi told reporters that Schultz had left UVM's employ earlier this morning, agreeing to a severance package that will see him paid through the end of 2012 and provide him and his family with additional benefits — including free, in-state tuition for his three children. If Schultz finds work before Jan. 1, 2013 he won't receive health benefits, but will continue to be paid a full salary based on his most recent pay, which is more than $155,000. The university also agreed to pay Schultz's attorney, Burlington lawyer Richard Cassidy, $15,000.
In response to the reports and the board's actions, Dan Fogel released the following statement: "It is good to have reached closure on this unfortunate matter, and I regret the distractions it has caused the university. We have many opportunities and challenges ahead, and they demand our full focus and attention," wrote Fogel. "I have every confidence that UVM will continue its successful ascent of recent years, and I will enthusiastically assist in whatever way I can."