Case closed on Hitchcock allegations

Inquiry won’t be held into accusations of ethical misconduct

Principal Karen Hitchcock has been cleared of alleged ethical misconduct from her time at the State University of New York Albany (SUNY).

On May 6, 2006, John Rae, chair of the Board of Trustees, sent a letter to the Board outlining the actions taken by Hitchcock and her team of lawyers and to announce the conclusion of the investigation.

Rae wrote to the Board that “New York State University Chancellor John Ryan has written to our Chancellor expressing ... the fact that the State University of New York regards this matter as closed.” Rae told the Journal this means that the case will not be re-opened, even if Hitchcock were to return to New York to be an employee of the state.

“The state of New York has been given every opportunity to review this matter and has decided not to,” he said. “It’s closed ... that’s very clear to us.” Kingsley Chak, Student Trustee, was present at the University Council meeting at which the case was declared closed.

“Based on the information given to the Board and the information I see as a Trustee and a student, I fully respect Hitchcock and her integrity to the school,” he said. In April 2004, the New York State ethics commission informed Hitchcock that a complaint was filed against her alleging she had attempted to steer a campus construction project to a developer, who would in turn fund a university professorship for Hitchcock to fill after the completion of her term as Albany president.

However, when Hitchcock left New York to become Queen’s principal in May 2004, a loophole in state law that has since been closed prevented the investigation from continuing because Hitchcock ceased to be an employee of the state.

The investigation became public in February 2005, when the New York Times published an article about the allegations.

In December 2005, the University announced they hired high-profile New York lawyer Robert Fiske to lobby for a full investigation into the allegations. Fiske was the special prosecutor in the Whitewater case.

This lobbying was discontinued in May 2005 because of New York State authorities’ inaction, but recommenced when, in Dec. 2005, the Albany Times Union named the SUNY Albany Vice President Kathryn Lowery and former Provost Carlos Santiago as the two high-ranking officials who made the original accusations against Hitchcock.

It was this renewed coverage that prompted Hitchcock and the University to begin lobbying the New York state government for an inquiry into the allegations.

The University paid Fiske about $25,000 in legal fees, but during a May 5 University Council meeting, Rae said much of the work Fiske had done was “pro bono.”

Rae told the Journal that Fiske had done his best to get the New York government to launch a full investigation into the allegations.

“[Fiske] said that the best venue would be through the Attorney General’s Office,” Rae said. Fiske said he asked both New York state governor George Pataki and SUNY Chancellor John Ryan to request a hearing by the Attorney General’s Office of New York.

“They decided not to,” Rae said.

Because the Attorney General’s office wasn’t pursuing the investigation, Rae said, the Board of Trustees understood the matter to be closed.

Rae told the Journal the Board of Trustees didn’t see a need to pursue an independent investigation.

“We consider the matter closed,” Rae said.

Fiske said he’s satisfied with the ultimate outcome of his efforts.

“I was impressed from the beginning by the fact that Dr. Hitchcock and her lawyers were working so hard to get an investigation of this,” he said.

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