DeNile U: Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

On the opposite side of the Dean’s Office Suite, only a large reception area and a small conference room away from where Marisol was seething, David Marx was also in receipt of his morning mail. In better times, Marisol would hurry across the wide open space to his office and be standing in front of his desk with a smile and a stack of reports. He would look up and return the smile, always happy to see her, always knowing that what she had to say was welcome and important. Now he looked at his closed door which replicated her closed door on the other side of the Suite and knew that she wouldn’t be coming into his office today, if ever again…and if she did, she wouldn’t be welcome.

David noted the manila envelope with the return address of the Office of Equity and Compliance. Cushioned in the plush leather Eames chair of his newly refashioned office, he leaned forward to put his fingers on the desk just to the right of the place where his name was scrawled in large, loping letters with an ink pen. He had known it was coming, had been expecting it today and was suddenly saddened by its arrival. He had worked with Marisol for such a long, long time and now she had turned against him. He wasn’t sure why she would use what information she had obtained while in his employ to harm him and it upset him to think she had taken advantage of his warm feelings for her. He had never done anything intentionally to hurt anyone, especially not Marisol, and he was astounded by her behavior.

She had accused him of many things of which he believed he was not guilty and her allegations didn’t bother him too much. No one, least of all Marisol, could possibly understand the pressures he was under as Associate Dean of the College of Business.  Decisions had to be made and sometimes they had to be made quickly and without time for forethought or even afterthought. He worked for an inept Dean who couldn’t make a decision if his life depended on it and David had to step up to the plate and get things done. Unfortunately, Dean McCarthy was a hands-on administrator and wanted to know everything that was being done in his name. One of David’s greatest challenges was how to get things done without McCarthy’s knowledge.  Sometimes that involved circumventing his authority and approving things behind his back; sometimes it involved simply making McCarthy think the ideas were his own.

Luckily, McCarthy had finally resigned and David was, at last, in a position to ascend to the Deanship, something he had desired ever since he decided to pursue educational administration. Then Marisol came along and put a barrier in the road that was totally unexpected and terribly unfair. She had accused him of fiscal improprieties and had actually suggested that he had had an affair with a student. Nothing could be further from the truth. Isabele Fuentes was like his daughter. He had only tried to help and protect her. He would never have touched her physically and had only helped her with a small academic problem that he believed would sort itself out and then amount to nothing…nothing at all.

But he got caught in the middle of a busy academic semester and Isabele’s own tendency to procrastinate and not do what he had asked her to do. If she had, the situation would never have come to light. But Isabele had not finished the paper on time and then had not finished it at all. There was still time to straighten it out—as a matter of fact, time was all that was needed. And if Marisol would mind her own business and leave academic matters to the academicians, time would solve the problem.

No, Marisol’s allegations didn’t bother him at all. What troubled him deeply was the fact that a so-called friend had betrayed him! That was a bitter pill almost impossible for him to swallow. He choked on it every time the words Marisol Stewart crossed his mind.

David picked up the envelope and moved it to the table behind him and decided not to open it just now. No, he had 3 meetings scheduled and 50 e-mails to answer and 10 phone calls to return. No, he would not worry about it just now. If he had done anything wrong, he had not considered it wrong. He was just a man who had a lot on his plate and sometimes had to make quick decisions. But years of experience meant that his decisions were well-grounded in academic philosophy and university policy. 

At times when he had been weak in the latter, Marisol had always been there to keep him in line. And if she couldn’t keep him in line, she had been able to figure out how to get his more marginal requests around university policy. Usually a simple a change in wording was enough to pass something through the system unchallenged.

Sometimes Marisol wanted to confirm policy before she processed his requests but he had learned a long time ago that if you call someone, you merely reveal your true intentions and then you’re stuck. Forever after, your paperwork is subject to scrutiny. No, it was definitely better not to ask too many questions and his mantra, it’s better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, had always proved the better part of valor. 

Now Marisol was blaming him for improprieties that he knew he was not guilty of and he didn’t understand what her motives could possibly be. But later for that. He had work to do and he would think about all of it another time when he had more patience to focus on it. The clock on his wall indicated he had 10 minutes before his next meeting. He reached across the clutter on his desk, picked up the telephone and dialed a number.

CHAPTER TWO

“Shit!”  Peter Yeardley had just returned to his office after a particularly stressful meeting with the Vice President of Budget and Finance and, when he saw the envelope lying on his desk, the word flew out of his mouth before he could stop it. Normally he did not allow himself to lose control like that, to yield to the excesses of the anger and frustration that were inherent in his position as Provost of DeNile State University.

Difficult situations and tough decisions were unavoidable hazards in his job description and he typically accepted the challenges they presented with the anticipation of a mountain climber, scaling each circumstance with the assurance that he would come out on top. Having taught himself to sublimate any personal feelings he might have about whatever problem was in front of him and then channel his natural aggression into the energy it took to brainstorm a solution, his apparent cool veneer often concealed a much darker mood. The importance and high visibility of his position required, no, demanded this of him.

But the envelope resting innocuously on his desk represented something beyond his normal scope of rugged terrain and jagged edges and, though he was fairly certain of its contents, he was not at all certain of the ramifications of its distribution to all parties involved. It could result in nothing; on the other hand, it could provoke a reaction that could lead to further mountain climbing.

The morning mail had been delivered right on time at 10:00 a.m. by Rhonda, the mail delivery person at the university who serviced Lexington Hall where the administrative offices were located. Cynthia, his secretary, always sorted through the mail, opened all the envelopes and put the important pieces in Peter’s in-basket. The junk mail she filed in the waste basket and the rest she kept on her desk to get ready for her work day. Most of the mail was usually for her, or at least involved matters that she could take care of before Peter ever had to see them.

The 9×12 manila envelope, however, was not something she could deal with but she had not placed it in Peter’s in-basket. Instead, it sat smack dab in the middle of his desk and was stamped in large bold letters, CONFIDENTIAL. The letters loomed in the space just above his name which was sprawled out in a loose, free-wheeling cursive with the jet black ink of a fountain pen. The return address indicated it had come from the Office of Equity and Compliance but he didn’t need to see that to know the origin.  The only person on campus who still used a fountain pen was Leland Jackson, its Director.

Peter had shuddered when he first saw the envelope, his broiling interior rumbling against his composed exterior, and then it erupted into a hot fire. He knew it was coming, having received a phone call about it the day before but now the reality of it was sitting on his desk and it made him seethe with fury. The audacity, the nerve, the unmitigated gall, the outright insanity of it astounded him. Some lowly clerk in the College of Business thought she could actually include his name in her grievance against David Marx and get away with it. She obviously didn’t understand university politics or she would not have had the chutzpah to make such a move. More important, she did not understand Peter Yeardley who would never, ever allow the grievance to see the light of day. He would fire her first. Well, he couldn’t do that without adding some validity to her complaint but he for sure would make her want to quit. His ability to approach this situation in the same manner he did all challenges eluded him and he didn’t know why. He’d certainly faced worse but this seemed different, this seemed more personal…

If nothing else, the timing was lousy. He was a finalist in the President’s search at the University of Colorado and though he doubted it could be proved that he had been complicit in any wrongdoing, the embarrassment alone would be enough to damage his chances, if not take him out of the running altogether. In his worst nightmare, he saw his name in the newspapers with the following headline, University Provost under investigation for covering up academic fraud.

Therefore he made an executive decision to do everything in his power to stop Marisol Stewart from opening up a wound that would do more harm than good. As Provost, he thought he was within his rights to do so and he deluded himself into thinking he had a responsibility to the university to protect its image. After all, preserving the name and reputation of DeNile State University, he believed, was the greatest contribution he could make to the faculty, staff, current student body, the alumni and, most important, to the State of Illinois.

He tore open the envelope, shredding through his cursive name and extracted the papers inside. Having regained his composure, he settled down to read the report from Leland Jackson.

CHAPTER THREE

Marshall Norbert stood at the window of his office and looked out across the campus of DeNile State University. It had been in existence for 100 years and was a testament to the desire of humans to want to better themselves through education. His eyes warmed to the vision of plush green expanses of lawn surrounding the university buildings, early 20th century architecture resplendent with Doric and Ionic columns, updated here and there with the cleaner lines of modern and post modern designs. It shouted tradition while giving a clear indication of DSU’s progressive steps into its own future.

Marshall was proud of his university and proud of his own achievements. He was the first in his family to even get a college education and now he not only had obtained his doctorate in Psychology, he was the new President of DeNile State University. It was a staggering accomplishment given that he had served in Viet Nam right out of high school, returned as a veteran to get his college degree, married his high school sweetheart and had fathered 5 children, all the while climbing the ladder of success to his present position.

But being President of a University wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. He thought he understood university politics and believed himself to be a champion of the game. But, in his initial days at DeNile U., he had pretty much learned that Peter Yeardley was the one who really ran the show and even a new president was not going to change things much. He had thought about resigning but then had decided, at age 55, he was too old to make such a rash decision. Choosing the lesser of evils, he made a greater effort to settle into the role of being the PR, fund-raising mascot for the university and collect his paycheck of $200,000 per year plus housing with all the dignity he could display.

When he glanced at the envelope on his desk with his name sprawled in black ink cursive, he winced. Ms. Stewart had come to talk to him and he had actually suggested she go to the Office of Equity and Compliance. He really didn’t think she would do it but even if she had, he didn’t believe there was anything to fear. Her complaint, though seemingly well documented, was too difficult to prove. After all, so many things are merely a matter of perception. What one person thinks illegal, another might think just imprudent. What one person thinks imprudent, another might actually think desirable. Marshall had enough experience to know that sometimes the end really does justify the means, especially if the end is for the greater good. Anyway, none of it could be proved and David Marx and DeNile State University needed to be protected at all cost.

CHAPTER FOUR

In the Student Services wing of Sutton Hall, Chad Charles was busy checking the grades of a student who was about to be placed on academic probation when the envelope was plopped on his desk. He had not been sure he would receive a copy of the report at all because he had been such a hostile witness. He looked at the 2×4 computer label bearing his name and thought it such an impersonal way to distribute this kind of information. At the very least, there should be a committee meeting to discuss the matter. After all, university policy had been violated and the reputation of the entire academic community was at stake. As a matter of fact, he had just recently read in the Chronicle of Higher Education that academic fraud was on the rise and university communities everywhere were cracking down hard. Well, there was no indication that DeNile State University intended to “crack down” hard. As a matter of fact, there was every indication the top administrators intended to sweep this matter under the rug. 

He opened the envelope and read its contents. A look of astonishment splashed across his face and a slow burn inched from his throat into his mouth. He threw the pages down on his desk and the word “Bullshit” shot out of his mouth before he could stop it as the look of astonishment was quickly replaced with one of disgust.

The report said Marisol’s allegations couldn’t be proved. On the contrary, the story had been told to him by the Professor who committed the foul deed. No, Chad hadn’t been wired and he couldn’t prove it when the Professor decided to deny he ever confessed, but he hoped integrity would rule the day and decency become the norm.

As Registrar of DeNile U., Chad had a great deal of interest in the university’s integrity. Degrees had been conferred every semester for the past 100 years to students who worked hard for their honors. All would be amazed and angered to think it could have been done any other way. What Marisol Stewart had brought to his attention was a clear example of academia gone wrong. Tenure sometimes protected the wrong people and it was obvious things needed to change. He had e-mailed Marisol to assure her, “You will not be in this alone,” but now it had gone bad. People he had believed to be consummate professionals were showing themselves to be consummate scoundrels instead.

Now his very job was in jeopardy. How could he protect Marisol when he didn’t know if he could protect himself?

CHAPTER FIVE

Leland Jackson sat at his desk in Sutton Hall with an oppressive heaviness in his heart and a nauseating emptiness in his stomach. The latter was probably because he had forgotten to eat breakfast again but the former weighed ominously on him and actually took his appetite away. Yesterday, he had personally taken the time to handwrite names on three envelopes containing the final report of Marisol Stewart’s grievance. Marge always typed everything that left the office but Leland wanted to personally review the documents one more time before he slipped them into the envelopes along with a personal note for each recipient. Then he sprawled each name on the appropriate envelope in his well-known cursive with his favorite pen—the pen given to him by his father when he graduated from college. It meant a great deal to him and he valued it more than he valued the name he often signed with it. He then had actually called each person to let them know what they would be receiving in the mail the next day. He then handed the envelopes to his secretary and asked her to mail them along with the other two she had already prepared with typed labels.

The contents of each envelope varied but the bottom line on the report sent to each person was that the University found no merit in Marisol’s grievance that accused David Marx of retaliation. It had been investigated thoroughly and no incidence of retaliation could be proved. However, it continued, Ms. Stewart had brought her charges in good faith, had actually made the university aware of some discrepancies in the system that needed to be corrected and the university wanted to thank Ms. Stewart for doing the right thing. It concluded by stating that Ms. Stewart should continue to be free from any retaliatory actions on the part of any university official and that she be allowed to continue in her present job until she chose to leave.

Right! That, Leland knew, was unlikely to happen. He knew they would do whatever they could to expel her from the system. Marisol, like himself, was African American and there was nothing to protect either of them if someone wanted them to go. His own job had not been threatened in this matter but the strong suggestion of good for the greater cause had twisted his arm behind his back and convinced him that to report anything other than what he actually did report, would ruin the entire university. He was told David Marx was nothing more than a loose cannon that had fired once too often. He was assured that Dr. Marx had not actually done anything wrong, had just acted hastily and without a thorough understanding of the consequences of his actions. He was further assured the university would deal with Dr. Marx internally and this matter would never need to see the light of public scrutiny.

It had been hard for Leland, for when Bonita first informed him of her interview with Marisol, he was astounded by the nature of her allegations and the extent her documentation. Further, what she said dove-tailed with things he had already heard about David Marx. He knew Marisol was intimately aware of the financial activities of Marx because she had, within her possession, all the financial documents of the entire College of Business. For Peter Yeardley to suggest that she didn’t know what she was talking about seemed ludicrous. Further to allow Peter to spear head the investigation of an allegation in which he himself was a respondent, was against everything right and moral. Further, it was against university policy. 

Leland Jackson hadn’t been able to breakfast that morning because he had no appetite for what he feared would happen when Marisol Stewart received and opened her neatly labeled manila envelope in which she would find a document that would basically tell her she was full of shit.

 

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