Museum Restoration

Arizona State University has exonerated ASU Art Museum Director Marilyn Zeitlin of wrongdoing in connection with allegations of misuse of university funds.

Last week, ASU released findings of a four-month internal investigation into the allegations, which had surfaced in a state auditor general's report last March. The conclusion: More than $275,000 may have been deposited into the wrong university account, but all of it was spent in accordance with donors' wishes--including a few thousand dollars spent on flowers, alcohol and parking tickets associated with museum events.

ASU's internal investigators did find some haphazard business practices at the museum, and recommended that training be held for museum personnel to bring them up to speed on accepted practices.

Zeitlin was placed on administrative leave with pay in March, pending the outcome of the investigation. She returned to work in April, on a limited basis; she was not allowed to handle personnel or business matters. Last week, she regained all of her duties, says Robert Wills, dean of ASU's College of Fine Arts.

"I'm delighted that we've come to the end of it [the investigation] and I'm pleased with the results, and I think the future of the museum looks good," Wills says.

The investigation was originally intended to focus only on the museum. But with the threat of a public relations disaster looming (ASU is in the midst of a $300 million fund-raising campaign), the scope was broadened to include university-wide compliance. The ASU Foundation hired the national accounting firm Deloitte and Touche to review its accounts and transactions.

Last week, ASU President Lattie Coor told the Arizona Board of Regents that, as a result of the investigation, accounting procedures will be strengthened and the university's frequent-flier-miles policy will be reviewed. Overall, he said, business practices at the university are sound.

In a written statement, Coor said, "This reassurance that our expenditures are being made in full accordance with the intent of our donors is heartening. The thorough examination of our policies and procedures has helped further instill the confidence in our overall operations. It also highlighted certain areas that could benefit from tighter procedural controls, which we are implementing."

Among the investigators' findings, with regard to the art museum:
* Monies donated to the museum were deposited into the ASU Foundation account when they should have gone into the museum's university account--but no money was misspent.

* Between July 1, 1995, and February 28, 1998 (a broader scope than the auditor general's report, which covered FY 1996 and 1997), $5,755 of almost $400,000 in total expenditures was used to pay for items such as parking tickets, alcohol and flowers. These expenses are justified by the university as "cultivation efforts [which] are consistently shown to be directly related to additional museum donations."

* Some art museum employees, including Zeitlin, violated university policy by contracting with relatives for services without completing necessary paperwork. However, investigators say there was no criminal wrongdoing and the university received fair market value for monies spent.

* The museum store procedures need to be revised.
The investigators' results jibe with New Times' reporting on the subject ("Framing Marilyn Zeitlin," April 30). Based on dozens of interviews and a review of hundreds of pages of ASU public records, the paper reported that Zeitlin had been vilified by the state auditor general and the local media, when, in fact, she was guilty only of sloppy accounting and poor management.

Tim Feavel, the museum security guard who brought the possibility of financial misdeeds to the attention of the state Auditor General's Office last year, declined to comment, other than to say he thinks training for museum personnel is a "great idea."

The university's internal probe is over, but there's no word as yet as to whether a state attorney general's investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by Zeitlin and others is still ongoing. AG spokeswoman Kari Dozer did not return calls seeking comment.

Zeitlin is cautiously pleased. "There are some really serious business management issues that we need to deal with," she says.

"I guess I want to thank the university for its thoroughness [in its investigation]. . . . They left no rock unturned, so I feel that I'm standing on a very firm platform for going forward, and I wouldn't have, had it [the allegations] merely been dismissed."

Contact Amy Silverman at her online address: [email protected]

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at