The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 1:56 pm

Report: Wartell ouster botched

Rebecca S. Green The Journal Gazette

Purdue University handled the 2012 forced retirement of former IPFW Chancellor Michael Wartell pretty poorly, opening the door for years of litigation that followed, according to a report by an independent investigator.

While the investigator, attorney John Trimble, found neither the university nor then-President France Córdova discriminated against Wartell, he pointed out blatant falsehoods by Córdova and a general bungling of the situation that left Wartell bruised and spoiling for a fight with his former employer.

The Trimble Report paints a picture of the former chancellor as a somewhat controversial and prickly advocate for the Fort Wayne campus, which caused some politicking by community leaders in opposition to him in the events leading up to and following his ouster.

For more than two years, Purdue officials fought to keep the Trimble Report a secret, recently releasing it only after a settlement was announced in a federal lawsuit stemming from Wartell’s retirement and after a federal Freedom of Information Act request by The Journal Gazette.

While he was told he would be forced to retire at the end of the 2012 academic year, Wartell asked to be allowed to remain at the helm of IPFW until after the school’s 50th anniversary celebration in the 2013-14 academic year. His request was denied, and Purdue replaced Wartell with a 64-year-old woman, Vicky Carwein. She assumed his duties in September 2012. 

 After Wartell filed an internal complaint with the university, accusing Córdova of gender and age discrimination, as well as a general personal hostility to him, Purdue University hired Trimble to investigate whether discrimination had occurred. 

An Indianapolis attorney with the firm Lewis Wagner, Trimble is both a litigator and a busy mediator, according to his biography on the firm’s website. 

He completed his report in February 2012, and turned over to Purdue’s trustees, which denied Wartell’s complaint a few weeks later.

Purdue refused to give a copy of the report to Wartell, claiming the document was protected by attorney-client privilege. Wartell argued that at all times Trimble was presented to him as an independent, neutral investigator, according to documents. 

A year later, Wartell sued the university in federal court, raising the same allegations of discrimination and asked for a copy of the report.

He also sued the university in Tippecanoe County court, also seeking a copy of the report.  

Purdue insisted the document shouldn’t be disclosed and fought Wartell’s every attempt to gain access to it, spending more than $153,000 in legal fees to keep the document secret.

And at every court level, judges denied Purdue’s assertion, most recently in early September in federal court. The federal lawsuit was dismissed this month after a settlement was announced.

No information about the settlement has been released.

While the report sides with Purdue regarding Wartell’s claims of discrimination, neither Córdova nor the university escapes unscathed.

The report said Córdova lied to her lawyer, since that is what Purdue argued it considered Trimble, about her reaction to the same retirement policy, which required high-level administrators to exit their positions when they hit the age of 65. 

Wartell believed she wanted him out, in part, because her own request to be excluded from the policy was denied. She told him, and Trimble, that she had never made such a request of Purdue’s board of trustees.

Current board of trustees chairman Tom Spurgeon, then the board’s vice-chairman, wrote a letter to the editor of The Journal Gazette in October 2011, also suggesting that Córdova made no such request to the board when she approached age 65.

Both assertions were patently false, according to the report.

"She did seek an extension of her contract, and it was declined by the board," Trimble wrote in the report.

Trimble said Purdue handled Wartell’s retirement particularly ungraciously, and he urged Purdue to "study how decisions of this kind should be made in the future.

"Wartell is a proud and assertive man who made it well known that he wished to stay on at IPFW until he could celebrate the 50th anniversary," Trimble wrote in his report. "For him to receive a cold call out of the blue telling him that the Board of Trustees had made a decision on this issue was understandably shocking and upsetting to him."

Trimble faulted the board and administrators for failing to sit down with Wartell and talk to him about the policy in advance and to hear him out. 

Around the time of his retirement, well-known Fort Wayne-area businessmen and philanthropists met with Córdova, asking her to decline Wartell’s request to stay on, according to the report.

There were additional negative letters about Wartell distributed to the board, according to the report.  

"Matters were further complicated by the fact that outside parties were able to submit negative letters without him having the opportunity to rebut the things that were said about him," Trimble wrote.

Trimble urged the university to state that Wartell’s complaint and allegations were not false and malicious, even though they were unsubstantiated.

"He had reasonable cause to believe that his allegations were true," Trimble wrote.

rgreen@jg.net

     

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