By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
In a downtown Phoenix law office, filed along with hundreds of other documents, are four unique sheets of letter-size paper.
They are the personal notes of Arizona State University President Lattie Coor--written in his own tall hand--of a meeting held on March 25 of this year.
The curtain was falling that day on Laurie Vollen, hired less than two years before to oversee all student health care at the nation's fifth largest university.
The 37-year-old doctor had already been told that her contract as director of student health would not be renewed. She was to be relieved of her duties and shuffled off to an obscure office, where she would await the June 30 expiration of her contract.
After learning of her termination, Vollen pressed for the meeting with Coor. When it was finally granted in March, Vollen did not ask for her job back.
Rather, she told the president that the health of student athletes at ASU was being sacrificed on the altar of university politics.
As Coor's own notes reflect, Vollen told him the "integrity of Student Health has been seriously damaged," and he, or someone at ASU, "needs to take a look at it."
Specifically, Vollen said she believed she had been fired for refusing to look the other way while ASU Athletic Director Charles Harris undermined policies designed to protect the health and well-being of athletes.
Vollen and Harris had clashed frequently during her tenure. Harris, Vollen contended, had usurped the authority of the team physician--the doctor who worked for her and who was supposed to have the final say in the medical treatment of athletes.
Vollen told Coor that the athletic director was involving himself in medical decisions he was not qualified to make. Harris, for example, had abruptly canceled a heart procedure scheduled for one student--a hurdler on the track team--yet moved heaven and earth to arrange surgery for another athlete--a high-profile basketball player who hurt his knee while playing a pickup game over the summer.
When challenged by Vollen and then-team physician Steve Zonner, Vollen told Coor, Harris had simply rewritten the university policy on athlete health care to his liking.
"Harris developed, unilaterally, an [sic] medical policy for athletes," Coor's notes reflect. "Laurie said the policy is dangerous."
Under the Harris policy, Vollen said, the team physician was stripped of much of his authority, some of which was transferred to Head Trainer Perry Edinger, who reports to Harris.
Zonner was forbidden to refer athletes to outside specialists without Edinger's permission. Effectively, decisions about treatment were being made by Harris and other nonmedical administrators.
She was being fired, Vollen told Coor, because she had refused to keep quiet about Harris' actions. When her immediate boss, Vice President for Student Affairs Christine Wilkinson, would do nothing about the situation, Vollen said, she appealed to Provost Milton Glick.
That, Vollen said, is when she was told her contract would not be renewed.
"Christine [Wilkinson] doesn't want Laurie around, now that she knows what is really going on," reads the last sentence of Coor's notes.
Three months later, Vollen left ASU, convinced that the welfare of student athletes remained at risk. Coor, she says, did nothing about her allegations.
Although her concerns may sound like esoteric bureaucratic line-drawing, Vollen says, the administration's refusal to heed her warnings has jeopardized the health of student athletes. Absent a clear policy that medical decisions will be made by those with the training to do so, she says, ASU student athletes remain in potential danger.
The pettiest of motives--the battle for political turf--has allowed the situation to continue, she contends.
But Vollen is not giving up. It now has been almost nine months since she first informed the president of the problems, and she is preparing to sue ASU, saying she was illegally fired for being a whistle-blower.
Eight file boxes of documents, including memos, electronic computer mail and other miscellaneous records, are now stacked in the office of attorney Kimball Corson, who is handling Vollen's case against the university.
She hopes her lawsuit will throw light on the problems she believes university administrators--up to and including Coor--have concealed from students, parents and the public.
"They wanted me to go away with my tail between my legs, and at first I did," Vollen says. "[But] what makes people powerless is that the university acts as if nobody is ever going to touch them.
"The postulate put forth to me was: 'Laurie, you have a problem with Charles Harris. You're the problem.'
"I will no longer accept that."
@body:Some of Laurie Vollen's former co-workers describe her as intense, driven, intelligent and vociferous. She does not shy from challenge, they say, and possesses unremitting energy.
A short, slight woman, Vollen speaks clinically even in moments of emotion, using words like "legitimation" and "acculturated" while searching for the most technically precise voice for her convictions.
She is also a bit naive, former co-workers say, about the real-world politics of a major university--a judgment which Vollen herself now concedes is true.
Raised in a less-than-affluent Chicago family, she fell in love with the lofty realms of higher education, ultimately graduating magna cum laude from Princeton University in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in neuropsychology.