Mitchell suspended, resigns as Butler College master
Lee Mitchell, a University English professor for over 20 years, has resigned from his position as master of Butler College after being suspended as a member of the faculty, University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee '69 confirmed Wednesday night.
"Professor Mitchell has submitted a letter resigning as master at the end of this academic year," Durkee said in an interview, adding that Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel has already begun a search for Mitchell's replacement.
Mitchell's resignation, which comes during his first year as master of the college, was the result of a one-year suspension by Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin over the improper use of funds in an English department account meant to support the professor's research, Durkee said.
Though Durkee declined to share specific details concerning how the research funds were "inappropriately spent," one senior University official said the "ballpark" figure was approximately $20,000 over a period of eight or nine years. Until five years ago, Mitchell served as chair of the English department.
The official declined to elaborate on what the funds were used for and Durkee declined to comment on the $20,000 figure.
According to Durkee, the "irregularities" were first discovered "in a series of audits that were conducted earlier this year." Results of the internal audit were presented to Dobkin and to the Board of Trustees, who addressed the matter at their meeting on Saturday.
The point of sharing the report with the trustees was to determine any "important follow-up questions" that need to be answered to improve the University's auditing system, Durkee said.
"Obviously our folks in the treasurer's office and auditor's office will make changes if they need to be made, [but] I don't think that this is a case where there were problems with the system," he said.
Given that the spending irregularities were discovered this year and that, according to the senior University official, the irregularities began eight or nine years ago, when asked if the delay in discovery indicated a systemic problem, Durkee said he could not comment because he could not confirm or deny the official's claim.
According to the senior University official, a suspension from the faculty was presented as one of several options for disciplining Mitchell.
No connection to Butler
Durkee cautioned that there is no connection between Mitchell's suspension and his role as master of Butler College: "The issues that were investigated had nothing to do with Butler."
Rather, he said, Mitchell resigned as master because, after being suspended, "it would not have been possible for him to remain on [in that capacity]."
He added that the investigation determined the misuse of funds was limited to Mitchell. "This was solely an investigation of Professor Mitchell," Durkee said.
While on his one-year suspension, Mitchell will receive no financial compensation from the University, nor will he have access to the privileges of membership in Princeton's faculty.
Said Durkee: "He will not have use of his office; he will not have use of University facilities; he will not be on campus" — and he will not be teaching.
One senior faculty member characterized Mitchell's story as a "human tragedy."
"You have a person who has been teaching at the University for 30 years, who has been a very hard worker, served as a college master, chairman of his department — who probably has a very different perspective on what actually happened," the professor said.
Despite repeated attempts, Mitchell could not be reached for comment.
The professor said that never "in my life" had he heard of the suspension of a faculty member. "[This] sounds to me like a very serious disciplinary action," the professor said. "And it implies a serious professional lapse."
Though the University has a strict policy of not commenting on personnel matters, given the special circumstances of this situation, it "cannot be handled completely privately," Durkee said. "I think people deserve to know."
Asked whether President Tilghman wished to make a comment, Durkee said she did not.
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