Framing Marilyn Zeitlin

A disgruntled employee, the auditor general and the media painted the ASU Art Museum director as a self-serving spendthrift--then hung her out to dry. Marilyn Zeitlin may not be the greatest boss, but she's no crook.

By Amy Silverman

published: April 30, 1998

Stephane Janssen almost died last year, so Marilyn Zeitlin sent him some flowers. Zeitlin, director of the Arizona State University Art Museum, figured it was the least the museum could do. Janssen, a Belgium-born, world-class art aficionado--his personal art collection could literally fill a museum--was one of the museum's most generous supporters.

So generous that when he recovered, he donated about $500,000 worth of art to the ASU Art Museum, including a video piece by celebrated New York artist Nam June Paik.

Not bad for an $86.50 investment.

Marilyn Zeitlin practically lost her job over such profligacy.
Stephane Janssen was shocked in March when--driving home to Carefree after a blood test--he heard on the radio that Zeitlin was being investigated. The state auditor general had concluded that the museum had misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was even more surprised to learn that expenditures such as the floral arrangement Zeitlin had sent to Janssen's sickbed had gotten her into trouble.

Like her close friends and many arts patrons, Stephane Janssen stuck by Marilyn Zeitlin.

No one else did. Why should they? Just look at the auditor general's main findings, as dutifully repeated on the local news and in the Arizona Republic, Tribune and State Press:

* More than $275,000 in museum funds misused during fiscal 1996 and 1997, including purchases such as flowers and champagne and payments for parking tickets and lost library books.

* Zeitlin's son hired as a translator on a trip to Europe.
* At least three other instances of nepotism involving other museum employees.

* Misuse of frequent-flier miles earned on university time.
* More than $25,000 in purchases that were not put out to bid.
The audit implies that Marilyn Zeitlin and her staff went on a protracted, wanton shopping spree.

But a close examination of the record suggests that this audit is much ado about very little.

Dozens of interviews--including the first in-depth, on-the-record explanation from Zeitlin herself--and a review of reams of public records lead to the conclusion that the auditor general's report, while technically accurate, is so void of details as to beget unfair conclusions.

Ultimately, the audit's findings point to nothing more than some sloppy paperwork on the part of Zeitlin and museum staff. The auditor general found nary a dime that wasn't spent on university business.

Marilyn Zeitlin is an accomplished curator and fund-raiser who has put the ASU Art Musuem on the global map.

So why the hubbub?
Along the way, she offended a subordinate--and he set out for vengeance.
"All I did was my job," says Zeitlin's nemesis, Tim Feavel, the museum security chief who reported her to the state bean-counters. "My job is to protect from theft--inside and out."

Within days of the release of the audit, ASU--which is in the midst of a $300 million national fund-raising campaign--went into crisis mode. Zeitlin was put on paid administrative leave, pending the results of an internal probe of ASU's own. The state attorney general announced a preliminary criminal investigation. A legislative subcommittee voted to slash ASU's budget for next year by $250,000.

Specifics behind the allegations in the audit are elusive. The report doesn't include any details--such as, for example, how much money was misspent on parking tickets. The auditor general has refused to provide such documentation, saying it is included in confidential "working papers." Unlike most state agency heads who are audited, university officials were not allowed to preview the report and write their response to it.

In fact, Zeitlin, ASU College of Fine Arts Dean Robert Wills and other university officials learned of the audit report's existence when a reporter called for comment.

The facts, according to public records obtained from ASU:
* Misuse of $275,000: That money--virtually all private donations--was all accounted for, and all spent on museum business. There is question as to whether it was deposited into the correct university account, and whether the checks were made out correctly.

From January 1, 1996, through March 1998, the sum spent on flowers and alcohol--all for legitimate, museum-related purposes--totaled less than $2,000. For example, the museum spent $72 on alcohol for the "Art on the Edge of Fashion" opening, which drew 1,800 people. Flowers were sent to Bonita Nelson, a volunteer in the museum store and wife of former ASU president Russell Nelson, for whom the Nelson Fine Arts Center--where the museum is housed--is named, when she had major surgery. Cost: $51.89.

As for the parking fines, there was just one fine accrued during the period audited, for $10. Ironically, that $10 museum check--written to a tearful docent who had parked errantly before spending a day volunteering in the museum shop--was never cashed.

The lost library books in question had been borrowed by an employee who quit. Despite multiple calls, the two books weren't returned. Instead of letting the library foot the bill, Zeitlin decided to pay the $160 out of museum funds.

* Nepotism: Zeitlin did, in fact, hire her son, Milo Sweedler, to fly to Venice to act as a translator during an art exhibition. But he was living in Paris at the time and, because of a shortage of translators, might have been the cheapest help available--he agreed to do it for the cost of airfare and a hotel room. At the last minute, he was unable to attend, so Zeitlin reimbursed the university the $750 that had already been paid for his services.

It is true that in four instances--including that of Zeitlin's son--the form required for the hiring of relatives of university employees was not filed. However, university policy does not prohibit the hiring of family members.

The additional examples of nepotism that occurred before, during and after the time frame covered by the audit (approximately 1994 to late 1997), according to ASU public records:

Steve Makin, husband of museum employee Jean Makin, contracted with the museum to build two sets of shelves for a total of $7,100.

Norma Strange, wife of museum exhibit specialist H. Gregory Strange, contracted with the museum for $23,000 to design and produce a catalogue for a museum show. She was also paid $1,000 to design brochures for the museum.

Glen Lineberry, husband of museum curator Heather Lineberry, is business manager of Segura Publishing, which was paid at least $6,000 on purchases including studio rental and art supplies.

* Misuse of frequent-flier miles: There is no evidence that Zeitlin did this, according to ASU's records. The only trip she has taken using frequent-flier miles earned on ASU's time was to El Salvador, on university business.

* Improper bidding procedures: University policy requires most purchases over $25,000 to be bid. The only museum expenditures exceeding $25,000 during the period covered by the audit were for shipping of art. The university does not require shipping to be bid.

Feavel tipped the auditor general last year after a series of meetings he'd had with university officials, in which, he says, he'd tried unsuccessfully to get them to address financial discrepancies he noticed at the museum. Feavel says Zeitlin retaliated against him for that, and also because he'd filed a complaint against ASU. That complaint stemmed from problems at his home, which he says were caused by construction at the adjacent ASU research park.

Like the audit report itself, Feavel is convincing at first glance. He claims that when he acted to bring financial chicanery to light, Zeitlin retaliated by forcing him to walk seven hours a day, taking his keys and alarm codes away and humiliating him in front of the museum staff.

If Marilyn Zeitlin became the villain of this tale, Tim Feavel was the protagonist. He basked in the glow of celebrity. The Arizona Republic called for his commendation; he appeared on radio talk shows, beside whistle-blowers from Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and Child Protective Services.

But a four-month-long independent investigation commissioned by ASU--New Times has obtained a copy of the report--explains why Zeitlin did what she did.

Predictably, Feavel prefers his story, and he sees the auditor general's report as his complete vindication.

This is not a story of financial irregularities. It's a story about two people--Marilyn Zeitlin and Tim Feavel--who don't get along.

Feavel's a by-the-book guy; Zeitlin takes a more creative approach to getting organized. He attended Chandler public schools, and had never worked in a museum before 1995; she's studied at Harvard and Cornell and Berkeley, and has worked in the arts most of her life. He's got a Ted DeGrazia hanging on the wall of his study; she's got an original Andy Warhol Mao print.

Yet in some ways, Zeitlin and Feavel are alike. Both are fiercely proud, both take their jobs seriously, both like to be in charge.

"There's this real personal element to this. This really has very little to do with whistle-blowing and everything to do with Zeitlin's withdrawal of support and Feavel's retaliation," says "Pat," a longtime observer of ASU Art Museum politics acquainted with both Zeitlin and Feavel. ("Pat" was one of several people interviewed for this story who requested anonymity.)

"That's when he started going through records--when he wasn't getting positive reviews. . . . And like a petulant child, he was going to get even."

He nearly succeeded.
Here, then, is the true story of The Guard, The Director, Her Museum and Its Auditors.

The Guard
All Tim Feavel wants is for someone to take an honest, objective look at his complaints--and tell him he's absolutely right about everything.

Feavel, 36, is sitting in the kitchen of his south Tempe home--background noise provided by 5-year-old Jillian, who's watching a movie, and the family dog, who's yapping to get out of its cage. The air is cool, but sweat pours off Feavel's face and covers his hands, even though he's wearing a muscle shirt and shorts.

Feavel is a great admirer of art, he says. "I'm a collector of antiques, of history."

He collects glass tchotchkes in particular, bought at flea markets and garage sales and housed in a hutch in the front of his home. Down a hall is a study, which houses Feavel's collection of antique weapons, including swords and at least one gun.

On the table in front of Feavel are stacks of memos, letters, reports, notes, legal papers--all chronicling what has happened since fall 1996, when, he says, his house--and his life--changed.

"It's like not only on the morning that October did my house get shooken up, my life got shooken up."

The five Feavels--Tim, his wife Ann and their three kids--moved into the house in 1992. He says he was told that the vacant land behind the house would be a botanical preserve. But that changed when ASU began building its research park. Feavel says his house sustained between $70,000 and $175,000 in damage as a result of trenching and flooding on the construction site.

Feavel filed a claim against ASU in late March 1997; subsequently, he's filed a lawsuit against ASU, Motorola and other parties involved in the construction. Feavel believes he has been retaliated against by his employer, ASU, as a result of his lawsuit.

He imagines ASU administrators said, "'Tim can't afford an attorney if he can't work; let's kind of push him out.'"

Feavel contends that it's no coincidence that top executives of some of the companies named in his lawsuit--including Motorola and McCarthy Construction--are on the ASU Foundation board.

His lawsuit against ASU is one of the reasons his boss, Marilyn Zeitlin, retaliated against him, Feavel believes. Another reason: He reported what he believed to be fiscal abuses on Zeitlin's part.

He became concerned about museum spending, Feavel says, when Dawne Walczak, the museum accountant, began to fret about possible financial wrongdoings. Everything that bore Zeitlin's signature bore Walczak's signature. "If Marilyn told Dawne to sign something, she had no choice," Feavel claims.

"I heard her [Walczak] say, as well as other staff heard her say, that, 'If I did some of these things, I'd be indicted.' That's what got a lot of us going, 'What's going on?'"

Feavel's original "List of Alleged Violations," submitted to the auditor general, included accusations that Zeitlin used money in the museum's donation box for personal use; sold books from the museum library at a museum book sale; and refused to allow him to inventory the museum's art collection. Most of his concerns, however, had to do with Zeitlin's travel--to Europe, South America, Cuba and around the country--on museum business. (While records for the donation box--called the "bubble"--are scant, there is no evidence Zeitlin embezzled money from the bubble or the book sale.)

Zeitlin refuses to speak about Feavel, citing personnel regulations. She says, "I am unable to discuss any of those things [regarding Feavel], though as soon as I am allowed to do so I certainly have plenty to say."

Of the museum employees contacted for this story--including Dawne Walczak and the security guards who worked for Feavel--only Mary Jane Williams, the museum curator, is willing to speak about Feavel.

Williams didn't work closely with Feavel, although she was surprised when he once proposed that she be watched by security when she wrapped and unwrapped art to be displayed. Williams has been the museum's curator for almost 30 years; she's been around longer than anyone.

That's an example, she says, of "these sort of power-play types of things" Feavel did.

Williams adds, "Those who worked closer with him were always on edge."
Museum employees did speak to Daniel Dowd and investigators from the Phoenix law firm Cohen and Cotton (now Cohen, Kennedy, Dowd and Quigley) as part of the "Dowd Report," an independent investigation commissioned by ASU Provost Milton Glick in response to Feavel's allegations of retaliation. According to the $20,000 report--which includes interviews with 18 current and former museum employees, a review of documents provided by Feavel and his university personnel files--there is no evidence of retaliation. Instead, there is cause to question Feavel's job performance.

Feavel was hired as the museum's chief of security in January 1996. His first months at the museum went well. That April, Zeitlin gave him the highest rating possible and described him as "an outstanding leader in his area, tremendously knowledgeable, proactive in addressing issues, a real team player."

Two months later, he was identified as "an outstanding leader and supervisor."

But Feavel's performance deteriorated, according to the report and to documents he provided to New Times.

Zeitlin and Feavel first clashed in April 1997--some 14 months after he was hired--over his four-day absence from work. Feavel claims he called to report that he would be absent, because of a death in the family; museum staffers say they never received such notice.

Even so, Zeitlin gave Feavel a "satisfactory" review later that month. Feavel was unhappy with the review; he wanted a higher rating.

Feavel announced that he was resigning from the "facilities management" portion of his job. Zeitlin told him that portion of the job--which included walking the museum grounds--could not be separated from the rest of his job. (Subsequently, Feavel filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming he was discriminated against based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

In the meantime, Zeitlin got more troubling reports about Feavel's behavior.
Three museum security officers told her Feavel had altered the security scheduling log, increasing the number of hours he'd worked. The alterations did not jibe with a calendar kept by another security officer, according to the Dowd Report. When Feavel denied making the changes, Zeitlin took away his keys and access code to the museum's security system--a move that made him chief of security in name only.

Zeitlin met with Feavel at least twice, and wrote him a memo, complaining that he was forcing his way into restricted areas of the museum.

That memo, a copy of which was provided by Feavel, states in part: ". . . you have been seen entering restricted areas by forcing the security doors open by throwing your weight against them. . . . The damage to the doors could compromise the entire security system. It is also a very poor example to other Museum employees to observe the chief security officer violating the security system and the director's orders."

Another memo warned Feavel to stop using the museum's three-hole punch to prepare his grievance materials during work hours.

Feavel denies the former charge, but admits the latter.
Feavel filed grievances with Robert Wills, dean of the ASU College of Fine Arts, and later with Provost Milton Glick, who eventually commissioned the Dowd Report.

The Dowd Report is dated September 8. In October, Feavel went on unpaid medical leave, claiming a bad back and knee were worsened by Zeitlin's insistence that he continue to make security rounds in the museum.

Feavel says he can't understand why Zeitlin's attitude toward him changed; it must be his claim against ASU regarding his house, and that he'd complained to university officials about museum spending.

But Zeitlin wasn't the only one unhappy with Feavel's performance, according to the Dowd Report, in which names other than Feavel's and Zeitlin's were deleted. There are the three security guards who complained that Feavel was changing entries on the security logs, and then there's this footnote in the report: "Mr. Feavel's unexplained absences and his reluctance to perform security tasks were so well-known in the Museum that 'pulling a Tim' became a running joke amongst museum staff members."

Further, Dowd wrote, ". . . Ms. Zeitlin's belief that Mr. Feavel was not a team player, was not consistently present at the Museum during assigned hours and did not perform his fair share of the security tasks was a view shared by Feavel's security office colleagues and by other Museum staff. No one that we interviewed, other than Mr. Feavel, believed he was capably performing his role."

Although the Dowd Report offers ample explanation for Zeitlin's actions toward Feavel, it's apparent she treated him differently on a personal level.

In the good old days, "She would introduce me to people that came into the museum, how she loved me and I was the greatest," Feavel says of Zeitlin. ". . . And suddenly, in April [1997], it went from day to night. Boom. And I was thrown. And in fact, I was also hurt. It really hurt me, because I took a personal attention to the museum."

Feavel angrily recounts how Zeitlin shunned him. "I confronted her to say that these things [alleged financial abuses] were wrong. And she took a real arrogant attitude. . . . I just want to take 15 minutes a week to explain to you. She wouldn't hear of it. She was too busy flying to Cuba, flying all over the world."

Feavel calls the Dowd Report a "token investigation" and claims the university has refused to release it to him--which is odd, since ASU spokeswoman Nancy Neff says he was given a copy.

That's not the only instance in which Feavel--who loudly protests his veracity--has apparently skirted the facts. For example, his resume claims his company, ACTION, Inc., has done work for the Arizona Department of Corrections and Department of Economic Security. Neither agency has any record of the company contracting with them. When asked for further details, Feavel says he doesn't want the story to be about ACTION, Inc.

And he has left recent employers, including Chandler Regional Hospital and Arizona Public Service, off the resume. (Feavel says these were "temporary positions," which is why he didn't include them.)

The Dowd Report also noted Feavel's reluctance to provide all documentation of his claims--such as tapes he says he made of conversations with Zeitlin. From the report: "We can only conclude from his failure to produce the material that the recordings either do not exist or do not aid Mr. Feavel."

Feavel is in arbitration against Zeitlin. In addition to calling the auditor general, Feavel appealed to the state attorney general, but was told that university employees are exempt from state whistle-blower laws. Feavel's timing was good; a bill to include such employees has been making its way through the legislature this year. He has become one of its strongest advocates, speaking before legislative hearings and on radio talk shows.

Feavel sees himself as a savior. First he saved the museum, by exposing the misspending. Now he's going to save other whistle-blowers, like himself. He believes it's divine intervention.

"I'm very religious," Feavel says. "Very strong in that God has a reason for things, he has control. There was a reason why, I guess, I live in this house, by ASU Research Park. There was a reason I worked at ASU, there was a reason that I am the way I am, that I document everything. So there was a reason why all this happened. It can't be a coincidence. There's too many things."

The Director
Marilyn Zeitlin once described herself in a newspaper profile as a "middle-class, middle-age, Jewish, hypereducated white woman."

Hailing from Newark, she's lived in New York City and Houston and Washington, D.C., where she most recently served as executive director of the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) before coming to the ASU Art Museum in 1992.

Zeitlin lasted only two years at the WPA, where she had a sometimes contentious relationship with her employees and board members, according to the Washington Post. Anyone would likely have had trouble. Zeitlin replaced a longtime, popular director, and arrived at the WPA at a time when funding for the arts was drying up.

The Post reported that Zeitlin abruptly fired a programs director and was criticized for failing to keep in touch with WPA supporters and raise money.

She's made both friends and enemies in her almost six years in the Valley. Shelly Cohn, executive director for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, calls her an "incredible, important resource."

Are Zeitlin's days at ASU numbered? "I hope not," Cohn says. But, she concedes, "It's hard to overcome two front-page articles in the paper."

Zeitlin, 56, spoke on the record for this story, but would only agree to be interviewed by phone. She's awaiting the results of the university's internal audit, due May 31, as well as the attorney general's preliminary investigation--and she's only recently been allowed back to work.

Friends and associates describe her lifestyle as simple. Zeitlin apparently lives below her means, given her salary of $86,000; until recently, she drove an old Volvo. Now it's a Saturn.

She has a small house in south Scottsdale, where she lives alone with a Walker hound, Luna, whom she rescued from the pound. Her husband, sculptor David Folkman (her second), died a few years ago. She's got saltillo tile, mounds of books and Latin American folk art given to her through the years.

She can often be found in the summer at her computer, dripping wet from the pool in a tee shirt and bathing suit, writing a grant proposal. Her latest coup is a $50,000 Rockefeller grant for an upcoming show of Cuban art at the ASU Art Museum.

"She's consumed by it," says her friend and associate Lisa Sette. "I don't think she has a life beyond art."

Her friends tease her because she knows nothing about pop culture; she's had a television set for just three years, and only recently learned how to use a VCR.

Friends and foes describe Zeitlin as intelligent, intense, ambitious, hardworking, a "tough cookie."

She knows herself well. When asked how she is to work for, Zeitlin replies, "I think I have very high standards of performance but no higher than they are for myself. . . . I don't like people who shirk their responsibilities or who drop the ball, particularly if they do it habitually or maliciously."

Many describe Zeitlin the same way. One museum observer, "Pat," says, "I've seen her dote upon them [employees], and when they don't live up to her expectations, they cause her great disappointment."

That's apparently what happened to Tim Feavel. A former employee, "Chris," says Zeitlin's intensity can be overpowering.

"She's extremely moody," Chris says. "One week you'll be just like the apple of her eye and you can do no wrong, and the next week you're on her shit list. And everybody goes through that, there."

The work atmosphere in the museum, according to Chris: "High-powered. Very intense. Requires lots of loyalty. It's an exciting place to work. You may have the opportunity to have great, great chances of a lifetime to do exciting things, and in contrast, if it goes wrong it just goes wrong completely.

"When she's [Zeitlin's] focusing on a project, when she's curating a show, she expects everybody to drop everything else they're doing, for Marilyn's show. But it was never reciprocated. When other people were working on shows, she would not always do the same for other people working on a show. She's self-centered."

Zeitlin micromanaged her small staff, Chris adds, which could account for the sloppy paperwork that led to the audit.

Another former employee, "Carey," agrees that Zeitlin's skills tend more toward curating and less toward administration.

"I think that she's a very good curator, and I think that's what she really wants to be. It's difficult to handle both the administration and the curatorial portions of the job," Carey says.

"How can I put it?" adds Carey, who, like the others, refuses to speak on the record for fear of retaliation in the Valley's small arts community. "I don't think that she's, like, the world's best listener. I think the job of an arts administrator is to make opportunities available for your employees. . . . And she had the tendency to make opportunities available for herself."

Such observations were echoed in a memo to museum staff from College of Fine Arts Dean Robert Wills, who had surveyed nine employees on the occasion of Zeitlin's evaluation in August 1997:

"Marilyn received generally high 'marks' on her own continued development as a curator, on her decision-making ability, and on her work within the larger community. Her least positive 'marks' involved internal management of day-to-day Museum activity."

Yes, says associate Pat, Zeitlin can be "off-putting," describing Zeitlin as having the bearing of "Glenda Jackson playing Queen Elizabeth."

But, Pat adds quickly, "There's no question in my mind she's brilliant."
Zeitlin's style--both personal and professional--comes across in two years' worth of her e-mail correspondence. Even the most caustic comments are tinged with humor; almost every note is signed "XXMZ" (kiss, kiss). Her micromanagement is evident, as well as her arrogance.

"I like Arizona, though I am absolutely out of the loop as far as gossip goes," Zeitlin writes to one out-of-town colleague. "I have become a better fund-raiser. My approach is to go after people I really like so that I don't curl my lip involuntarily and spoil the pie. I am working on attracting two major collections right now, and its [sic] going just fine. I concentrate on about 7-8 people and spend time with them and send them notes when I travel and bring them deodorant (I really did this from Venice thinking it was perfume) from duty-free. I have to be myself or I am totally ineffective, so it requires a certain kind of donor to handle me."

In another note, to the museum accountant: "Dawne--Tim [Feavel] asked that the counting of the $$ in the Store be transferred to you and I agree that Security probably should be out of there. He and you and I can go over this. In part it is a concession to their dignity (no one appreciates us, it's not in our job description, that sort of thing). Frankly, I think you can do it in about ten minutes while it takes them 45."

She recommends shark cartilage for a colleague's bad knee, later asking the same person, "I have this newly re-newed interest in abstraction. Is it menopause?"

Zeitlin tells curator Heather Lineberry she must feel "as if you were flogged with a croissant, or something equally as trendy" after an exhibition received a negative press review from New Times. And she coos to ASU professor Betsy Fahlman: "Best-sy--(A Freudian typo)--Would that there were more of you. Sue [Coe--an artist with an exhibition at the museum] loved your class, loved you. Thanks for your perfect support of the museum and truth and beauty and good cooking and a better world. XXMZ"

On the topic of her pet project: ". . . Rockefeller wants a full proposal from me on Cuba. They got many Cuba proposals, but mine is the one going forward. Most intellectually rigorous (I used the word apotropaic--gets 'em every time) and most attentive to legal details. Whoopee!"

Bud Jacobson, a member of the ASU Art Museum advisory board and a longtime player in the local arts scene, describes the situation gently.

"Because of her strength, really, and her focus, I think there are some people in the arts community that find her maybe a little bit abrasive," he says of Zeitlin. "But, my gosh, what she's accomplished for a woman who's director of a state university museum--and, after all, this is not Massachusetts or New York--I think is pretty incredible."

Her Museum
Like her or not, there's unanimous agreement that the ASU Art Museum has flourished under Marilyn Zeitlin's reign.

Zeitlin laughs at the irony that auditors wouldn't be bothering with the museum if she hadn't brought in a lot of money.

"I like making things possible," she says, "and in a place like this--our museum--there's a tremendous amount that's possible. And a little money is all you need to make it go, and that, I think, was amply proved by what we did in the first five and a half years I was here."

For the first time anyone can remember, the museum is regularly bringing in big-ticket grants, like the recent one from the Rockefeller Foundation. Since Zeitlin took over, she's raised more than $400,000 in public and private donations, not counting Stephane Janssen's contributions.

The museum has had record-breaking attendance at two openings, 1997's "Art on the Edge of Fashion" and a current exhibit, "Another Arizona" (see review on page 63).

The museum's biggest coup came in 1995, with the Venice Biennale, where Zeitlin served as the only representative from the United States at the world's largest art exhibition.

College of Fine Arts Dean Robert Wills: "It was a good museum before. She's kind of moved it to the next level."

But in its 48 years, the museum had never been audited.

And Its Auditors
Marilyn Zeitlin learned last fall that the auditor general was inspecting museum files--she'd even been interviewed--but news that a report existed came as a total surprise.

"The first call I got was from [Republic reporter] Martin Van Der Werf. . . . What he said to me was, 'There is this auditor's report. It has some very serious allegations in it. Do you have anything to say?'" she recalls.

"I knew what their [the auditor general staff's] concerns were," Zeitlin adds, "but they had in no way indicated that they were going to release the kind of language that they did."

She had barely glanced at the newspaper the next day, when the phone starting ringing.

"I guess I felt numb," she says. "I have sort of an emergency reaction that I go into, and I just kind of went completely numb, got dressed and went to work."

Her friends and colleagues--who had heard Zeitlin's side of the story--were horrified by the press coverage and the immediate rush to judgment.

"The innuendo was that that money was missing," says Lisa Sette, who owns her own gallery in Scottsdale. "That she had lined her own pockets with that money. And that's what made me angry about the way it was reported, because that's untrue and that's pretty damn slanderous.

". . . The arts are so hard to keep going in this state as it is," Sette adds. "It gives honest people sort of a crooked kind of face, and I think it's really damaging. I mean, people are not in the arts because of the money."

By the next day, Zeitlin had been placed on leave by ASU President Lattie Coor. She returned to work April 8, in a limited capacity.

Feavel and Zeitlin are in the midst of the arbitration process, with a hearing set for late May. There is no word from the EEOC as to Feavel's discrimination claim, he says. His hearing before the state Industrial Commission, regarding injuries he claims he sustained on the job at the museum and at APS, is also set for May.

Feavel continues to make public appearances to speak of his whistle-blowing case. He's featured on a Web site devoted to museum security, and he says he's been contacted by the FBI, which is looking into the museum audit.

There is a broader implication to this story that goes beyond Tim Feavel and Marilyn Zeitlin to the heart of an ongoing feud between state lawmakers and state universities. The $275,000 that was "misspent" by the art museum was deposited into the ASU Foundation account rather than a state-controlled account. That meant the foundation, not the state, got the handling fees for the money, generally a small (3 or 4) percentage. Also, rules for using foundation money differ from rules for state funds; for example, the purchases of flowers and alcohol wouldn't have been allowed with state funds.

Aside from one check for $22,000 from a federal source, apparently any of the money in question could have been deposited with the foundation. The problem is that the checks were made out to the ASU Art Museum, not the ASU Foundation.

Why were dozens of inappropriately madeout checks deposited into the foundation's account? Foundation director Lonnie Ostrom did not return calls seeking an answer.

Allan Price, an ASU vice president, says, "The fact is that money was for the use of the art museum and was used by the art museum. . . . It was really more of a technical matter of what account it was deposited in."

But the perception was potentially devastating, given that the university is in the midst of a $300 million fund-raising campaign. And apparently the museum was not the only university department depositing money into the wrong accounts.

College of Fine Arts Dean Robert Wills says, "Evidently, when Russ Nelson was president [1981-89], there was a kinda university policy that gift money would be deposited with the foundation. So as a general rule, gift money has been deposited with the foundation. Not only museum, but other units as well.

"Now with all the attention focused on the museum, the university's looking at that pretty seriously, in terms of trying to decide what the best way to handle it is and how donor intent plays into the whole issue of where funds ought to be deposited. And I think it's safe to say that there'll be some changes there."

Ted Decker, president of the art museum's advisory board, says his board is extremely supportive of Zeitlin. He worried initially that the audit would thwart fund-raising attempts, but says it hasn't.

"We're moving ahead because we feel very confident that nothing has been done that's illegal or even that there have been misuse issues," Decker says.

Zeitlin is now curating the museum's next major show, Contemporary Art From Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island, which opens September 26 and will travel nationally.

On a bright day early this month--over a lunch of escargot and mussels and chocolate mousse--Stephane Janssen talks about his friend Marilyn Zeitlin.

Janssen added it up recently, and concludes he's donated $905,000 worth of art to the ASU museum since Zeitlin came to town.

He scoffs at the charges in the audit. "Of course you don't make an opening where you give only flat water with no ice!" he exclaims, over the silly notion that Zeitlin is guilty of spending museum money on champagne. "I mean, people come if you give them a little bit.

". . . I was devastated when I learned she could not go back to her office and she was in danger of criminal charges."

Word has just gotten out that Zeitlin can return to her job later in the week, and Janssen is delighted. He was horrified at the thought she wouldn't be allowed back. After all, his most recent gift was one of the largest he's ever made, and it had a lot to do with Zeitlin. She'd promised him she was in the Valley to stay.

Once she's totally cleared, Janssen muses, he thinks he'll make a gift of a piece of artwork--maybe a $70,000 bronze by the late Robert Arneson--to the museum as a show of his support for Zeitlin.

Kind of like sending flowers.

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: asilverman@newtimes.com