Kelly Cronin
Kelly Cronin (Courtesy photo)

CORRECTION: This story initially mischaracterized Kelly Cronin's departure from the University of Colorado. CU officials now say she is on the university payroll as she negotiates a "separation" from the university.

Less than a year after being hired as the University of Colorado system's top fundraising officer, Kelly Cronin is leaving the university in the wake of a $40,000 investigation into an allegation her assistant eavesdropped on a closed-door meeting.

CU spokesman Ken McConnellogue said there were a number of reasons for Cronin's decision, including the inquiry into whether she instructed an assistant to listen in on a private meeting of the CU Foundation, the university's private, nonprofit fundraising arm.

Cronin, who could not be reached for comment this week, is still in talks with the university about her "separation," McConnellogue said.

At the same time, the university also has decided to restructure the reporting relationship for fundraisers on the individual campuses, McConnellogue said. This year, the chief fundraising officers on each of CU's four campuses reported both to Cronin at the system level and to their campus's chancellor.

"That dual reporting relationship has led to challenges on the campuses," McConnellogue said.

With Cronin's departure, the four campus fundraisers will report only to their campus's chancellor, who will then report to CU President Bruce Benson.

In an email to advancement staff sent Friday, Benson wrote that the university appreciated Cronin's service and "the important work she did."

In an emailed statement, CU Foundation Board Chairman Carl Eklund said that the foundation will continue to support and work together with the university "toward our common goal to add value to students, faculty and campuses by garnering private support for the University of Colorado."

Cronin was hired Sept. 1, 2013, after the university decided to restructure its fundraising operations by bringing many CU Foundation employees over to the university.

Cronin's position, vice president of advancement, was created last year on the recommendation of a consulting firm hired by CU.

Negotiations between the foundation and the university are still ongoing under that restructuring, and an incident at an April meeting between the two groups led, in part, to Cronin's decision to leave, McConnellogue said.

Eavesdropping investigation

At a meeting in Denver between the CU Foundation's Board of Directors and several university employees, the board moved into executive session, which is closed to all non-board members.

All university employees either left the room or left the conference call, McConnellogue said.

It was later discovered that Cronin's assistant had been listening in to the meeting on the conference call, McConnellogue said.

The assistant's name has not been released by the university.

"What we decided was we needed to investigate this incident, was it intentional or not?" McConnellogue said. "(The investigation) found that (the assistant) participated in this call that he shouldn't have. It also found that there's no evidence that (Cronin) directed him to do so."

Of the CU Foundation, McConnellogue said, "It's an important relationship with us and I would say it's safe to say the incident damaged the relationship, but not fatally."

The university hired Patrick Ridley, an outside attorney, to conduct the investigation. Though numbers aren't finalized, the cost for the inquiry is expected to be around $40,000, McConnellogue said.

Cronin's position as advancement vice president has not been eliminated entirely, McConnellogue said, but will be "diminished."

'It'll work out in the long run'

Regent Steve Bosley, R-Longmont, said he could not speak about Cronin because of confidentiality around personnel matters. But, he said, the university's relationship with the CU Foundation is fine.

"We all have the same interests," Bosley said. "The whole purpose is what's best for CU. Some people might disagree on the best way to get there, but when you're all working for the same purpose ... it'll work out in the long run. I have no doubt."

McConnellogue said Cronin's job performance was not a factor in her decision to leave. The university is on track to beat last year's fundraising total of $128.8 million, which was a record.

With one month left in the fiscal year, that total is in the mid-$130 million range, McConnellogue said. Those fundraising totals include private philanthropy only, and do not include grants and contracts.

"We expect it could exceed $140 million," he said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106, kutas@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/sarahkuta.