It Takes One to Know One: Professor Carmola’s Ethical Lapses

Addison Criminal Division
05/09/11 State vs. Carmola, Kateri
51-1-11 Ancr/Criminal
Nancy S. Corsones
Plea Conference

As I believe I have mentioned a time or two, one of the most endearing characteristics typical of college faculty members is their utter lack of a sense of irony. When you put that together with their finely honed sense of aggrieved entitlement, you wind up with a winning package such as Middlebury College’s very own Associate Professor of Political Science

Kateri Carmola.

Professor Carmola’s areas of scholarly interests include the ethical ramifications of warfare and Plato and the noble lie. So sought after is she for her expertise that she has “participated in numerous forums and events on the private security industry” and “provided expert testimony for the UN Working Group on Mercenaries.” Her publications range from addressing the “legal, ethical, and sociological issues surrounding the use of private military contractors worldwide….[to] the problems of assigning blame for the crimes at Abu Ghraib [and] the concept of proportionality in the laws of war.” If you were to find yourself ensnared in an ethical dilemma, clearly Professor C is the gal you’d turn to for the way out.

Were it not for that little matter, reported by the Burlington Free Press, of “a felony charge alleging she embezzled $4,800 from the Salisbury Historical Society.” At the time of the theft, Professor Carmola was a member of the Society’s board of trustees–its treasurer, in fact.

Professor Carmola has mentored countless students.

Professor Carmola has pleaded not guilty to the embezzlement charge and is currently free on her own recognizance, her trial pending. Says the Burlington paper, “If convicted, Carmola could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $500 fine.” Rumor has it she’s burning the midnight oil boning up on the best way to assign blame for the affronts her dignity will suffer when she’s pulling laundry duty in the state pen. I also have heard that she’s been practicing a new pronunciation of the word “trustee.”

I was framed!

Bust-out scene from the docudrama, "Professor Carmola's Jailhouse Gang"

But perhaps her sentence will be mitigated if her jury considers the reason she suffered an ethical lapse. You see, she did it for the children. Her reason for emptying the coffers of a tiny, struggling non-profit? Besides, I mean, the obvious one that it is easier to steal from a volunteer organization of which you are a fiduciary than it is to seek funding through proper channels from your employer, who sits on an endowed nest egg of some $860 million. No, she stuck her hand in the cookie jar “to fund a series of class trips with college students in 2010”:

This will fund the snacks for our class trip!

According to a police affidavit, Carmola withdrew the $4,800 from the historical society’s bank account in 11 transactions between July 6 and Sept. 8 of last year. Carmola was on the society’s board of directors at the time but was not authorized to spend the group’s money without the board’s consent.

Society president Barry Whitney alerted police after he discovered that the funds were missing. According to the police affidavit, the society’s board confronted Carmola, who admitted she had taken the $4,800 out of the bank account and vowed to pay the money back.

“Carmola advised that she was taking money out of the savings account to fund her class trips with the Middlebury College students because she was a Middlebury College professor,” the affidavit said. The board subsequently voted to have Carmola removed from the board.

Middlebury, of course, is not acting as rashly. While it is true that Professor Carmola has copped to the crime, the chairman of her department thinks it would be “premature” to make a judgment. As does the Executive Vice President and Provost, who also evokes the p-word, saying:

The college would be very concerned if any of its employees were found to have engaged in unlawful behavior but it would be premature to comment on this legal case or to speculate about what, if anything, the college’s response will be.

In other words, Professor Carmola will be back teaching ethics at a liberal arts college located in Middlebury, Vermont. Ironic, isn’t it?

For an excellent on-the-ground account of Professor Carmola’s teensy mistake, read this post from the MiddBlog, Middlebury’s “alternative source” for news you can use.  Were it not for MiddBlog, I’d’ve missed the account in the Addison County Independent, which transcribes the conversation the professor-embezzler had with Vermont State Trooper Joseph Szarejko:

“I … spoke with Carmola and she advised that she did in fact take the money out of the historical society’s bank account because she did not have enough money to fund her expenses,” Szarejko wrote in his affidavit. “Carmola advised that she transferred the money out of the historical society’s account and into hers so that she could pay for her airfare and other expenses for the trips.”

Carmola told police she had returned the money and was “now aware that she made a mistake; she did not think anything was wrong with borrowing the money at first until she was confronted about this issue,” Szarejko wrote.

Here we have a faculty member who cannot afford airfare because “she did not have enough money,” so, like Willie Sutton, off she went to the bank, because that’s where the money is. So brazen is her sense of her entitlement, so highly degraded are her personal ethics that she told the state trooper, presumably with a straight face, that she “did not think anything was wrong with borrowing the money.” And, yeah, after she got caught she paid it back. I guess that makes her ethical after all.

In preparation for her plea deal, Professor Carmola uses ethics-for-dummies flash cards.

13 thoughts on “It Takes One to Know One: Professor Carmola’s Ethical Lapses

  1. “legal case” “legal case”? Wouldn’t it be just a tad more accurate to refer to it as a “felony case”? I have to admit I’m not surprised that the Salisbury Hysterical Society only had a measly forty eight hundred bucks. After all it is Vermont and the “members” are likely of a particular political mindset, of which one of its parameters is the unshakable belief in the innate superiority of spending other peoples money.

  2. Yes, I can believe it. You forget. I’ve been rubbing elbows with public servants, concerned citizens and community activists for the last, glorious twenty-six years. I believe that the good doctor’s behavior falls under the heading of “enlightened self-interest”

  3. When poor colleges like Middlebury pay their faculty only a pittance, and private colleges are struggling against the well-endowed public institutions, it is no wonder that impoverished faculty, living in genteel poverty for decades, are forced to go on the dole, or steal. Obviously, any well-educated heel…I mean high-heeled educator will do what is required by circumstances.

  4. Pingback: This is Getting Serious, Folks! Vassar’s Short $1.9 Million–More Academic Embezzlers Out on Bond! « Call Me "Miss"!

  5. Blog comments being what they are, it is hard not to infer gross cynicism (at best) with respect to the Historical Society in bill’s comment above. I am not familiar with the Salisbury Historical Society specifically, but town historical societies in Vermont are generally populated primarily by elderly members on fixed incomes. In the article in the Independent, the president of the Salisbury Historical Society was quoted as saying that their fundraising efforts garner about $2000 “in a good year.” He also explained that “The use of society funds must be approved by the society’s full board of trustees, said Whitney.”

    Note that Prof. Carmola is, at least right now, the “C. A. Johnson Fellow in Political Philosophy”. With an endowed fellowship, her salary is certainly well above the average for an associate professor.

    So, she “borrowed” funds (a total of 11 times! obviously without authorization from the Society’s Board) that represented more than two years of earnings for the Historical Society, an amount that she would earn in something over two weeks. And she didn’t think anything was wrong with that. Ironic, indeed.

    • You are exactly right on all points, Swan. There is a word that perfectly describes the animating power behind Professor Carmola’s behavior: hubris. It animates many faculty and administrators across the spectrum of higher ed.

  6. Pingback: Robert Harlan Puts the “I Owe” in Iowa! « Call Me "Miss"!

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    • Thanks for passing on a great link! You might also be interested in my essay on Middlebury faculty member Laurie Essig.

      But please understand–I believe that Middlebury is a GREAT college! You should be pleased your son or daughter is there.

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