Mary Alice Hill was the first woman who had ever been athletic director at a major college that plays football.
At 11:00 a.m. on July 24, 1985, a day one local writer called “Black and Blue Wednesday,” San Diego State University athletic director Mary Alice Hill abruptly fired two staff members and severed the contract of the athletic department’s promotional consultant. Three hours later, in a move far more stunning than the sackings themselves, SDSU President Thomas Day reversed Hill’s decision and reinstated all those who had been dismissed.
Marilyn Hatcher. “I couldn’t believe Marilyn had said those things."
The following morning. Day informed Hill that she would be placed on two-week sick leave until he could evaluate the crisis in the athletic department, and he requested that she undergo a psychiatric evaluation. On August 8, Day officially fired Hill as athletic director.
SDSU president Thomas Day: “People get hurt, innocent people, when you talk about personnel problems.”
The whole affair was mysterious, bizarre, and potentially sordid. It had added luster because Mary Alice Hill was the first woman who had ever been athletic director at a major college that plays football. When Day appointed Hill to the position in June of 1983, the press called him “courageous" and heralded his appointee as the woman who could break the gender barrier in the macho world of college sports.
Gabe Ortiz admitted requesting the list of reimbursements from the NCAA.
She had all the qualities: leadership, dedication, experience, and tremendous energy. The question was, could she work with men? And would they work with her? On the afternoon of July 24, 1985, when the SDSU president overruled Hill’s authority and reinstated the men she’d dismissed, it appeared as though the gender barrier had prevailed and that Thomas Day’s experiment had failed.
"Dan Nowak wants your job — and if I go down, you go down."
From the moment news of the Black and Blue Wednesday massacre was revealed, the press all but beat down the walls of San Diego State to get the full story. But few people were talking. The administration had ordered everyone involved to refer all questions by reporters to Day’s office, but neither the president nor his vice presidents would answer phone calls.
Steve Cushman may have failed to record some pledges from donors.
One staff member, quoted in the papers saying he could not comment, received a call from Day telling him, “Don’t even say that!’’ In his rare and sparsely worded written statements, Day would say little more than that he had “lost confidence” in Hill. He refused to say why.
Tom Stickel: "I have had reservations regarding your ability to lead the SDSU Athletic Department."
Regarding his policy of maintaining secrecy, he claimed he wanted to protect the privacy and reputations of his employees. His gag order remains in effect to this day, and neither he nor any other key San Diego State employees would speak on the record in this article.
Sally Roush's handwritten notes, June 12
The press did learn that Hill had made allegations of impropriety against the people she’d terminated, but few details were offered to explain the allegations. The university agreed to conduct an audit of the athletic department to determine if any of the charges were true, but Day refused — despite pleas by numerous supporters of the program — to hire an outside firm to perform it. Instead, he assigned an in-house auditor to the case.
Sally Roush's handwritten notes, July 17
When, on August 20, a two-page report was released to the press clearing everyone of wrongdoing, it only fueled suspicions that the audit was a whitewash and that Mary Alice Hill had been railroaded out of SDSU. Conducting an in-house audit was, Aztec Athletic Foundation board member Fred Thompson said, “like sending in the wolf to count the chickens."
Sally Roush's handwritten notes, July 19
The scandal hindered efforts by the AAF, which raises money for the athletic department, as numerous donors publicly condemned Day’s action and vowed to withhold future contributions.
Sally Roush's handwritten notes, July 30
The press also learned that the administration believed Hill’s actions on July 24 fit a pattern of “erratic behavior” that she had been demonstrating for several weeks. But no one would explain what that meant. Hill had been with SDSU for nine years, having worked her way up the career ladder as an assistant and an associate athletic director, and had never demonstrated anything resembling erratic behavior. Two weeks after Hill was fired, she petitioned the university through Section 89546 of the California Education Code for production of all documents related to her dismissal. On September 6, 1985, she received 512 photocopied documents, many of which were confidential and have never been made public by SDSU. They included materials pertaining to the audit, Day’s personal correspondence, and numerous intra-campus memos.
It was these memos that horrified Mary Alice Hill. She discovered that for weeks before her firing, a person she had described as “the only one [in the department] I can really depend on” had been relaying details of private conversations back to President Day via personnel director Sally Roush. Among the documents Hill received last September were several pages of Roush’s handwritten notes (all of which made their way to Day) pertaining primarily to conversations with Marilyn Hatcher, an assistant athletic director. After Hill read these documents, it became clear why Day had ordered that she undergo the psychiatric evaluation. The profile of the Mary Alice Hill described in Roush’s notes is that of a paranoid, severely deluded woman who apparently had sought refuge from her torment by seeking the advice of a psychic. One could easily surmise from the notes that Hill was a lesbian, an alcoholic, potentially violent, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Hill says it took an entire month for her to read the file containing Roush’s notes, most of which concerned conversations with Hatcher. “I would read a page or so and start crying, and I’d have to put it down,” she says. “I couldn’t believe Marilyn had said those things. Ninety-five percent of what she told Roush is either wrong or grossly exaggerated.” These and other documents will appear in a lawsuit Hill intends to file next month, charging sex discrimination, wrongful termination, and First Amendment violations.
Although the audit materials provided by the university were incomplete, recent interviews with auditors and those investigated suggest that Hill’s allegations were made hastily and, in at least one case, were based in part upon a misunderstanding. Roush’s handwritten notes, though obviously damaging to Hill, do not provide blatant proof of a conspiracy to do away with her. However, the documents Hill obtained do provide a compelling, if somewhat patchy, script of the circumstances that led to Black and Blue Wednesday.
Combined with testimony from Hill and several other sources, many anonymous, they help reveal how the various players responded during this drama, how a series of clandestine activities, by both Hill and the administration, led to an escalating cycle of fears and suspicions fueled by rumor and innuendo. The evidence available raises serious questions about Hill’s mental competence at the time, her ability to run the athletic department, and the grounds for her decision to fire three people. It also raises the question why President Day, despite considerable evidence that a disaster was imminent, never rigorously confronted Hill with evidence of her allegedly bizarre actions. Had he done so, there is reason to believe he could have prevented the entire debacle. “The one thing I don’t understand is why the president never even asked me about [the information in Roush’s notes],” says Hill. “That’s what hurt me the most. When he started hearing terrible things about me, why didn’t he ever come to me and say, ‘Mary, are these things true?’ ”
In a recent interview, Thomas Day refused to answer that or any other question regarding his handling of Hill’s dismissal. He did say there was no miscarriage of justice, and he offered numerous reasons why the Hill story should not be revived. “People get hurt, innocent people, when you talk about personnel problems,” Day said. When Hill heard this comment, she replied, “Well, I got hurt, too.”
In 1976 Hill became athletic director for women’s sports at San Diego State. Department head Ken Karr’s decision to hire the thirty-six-year-old Hill was a risky one, given that she brought with her a reputation as a potential troublemaker. She’d come from a similar job at Colorado State University, where she’d complained vigorously that the women’s athletic budget, $5000 when she arrived in 1971, was too small compared to the husky $1.5 million allotted to men’s athletics. Though Hill succeeded in raising the budget to $80,000, she was fired in 1974 because she had not completed her Ph.D., which the department required. Hill felt her outspokenness led to the firing, and she filed a series of bitter lawsuits charging sex discrimination. She would eventually win an out-of-court settlement for $65,000.
Between 1976 and 1979, the women’s athletic budget at SDSU had increased from $54,000 to more than $200,000, and Hill was able to add new sports and offer increasing numbers of scholarships to female athletes. She gained valuable experience acting as an assistant to Karr and his successor, Cedric Dempsey, working in all programs (for both woman and men) except one — football. In 1979, when Dempsey left SDSU, President Thomas Day considered offering Hill the athletic directorship, but the job went to Gene Bourdet, former athletic director at Fresno State and, in 1970 and 1971, director of the Aztec Athletic Foundation. During a recent interview. Hill recalled that in a private conversation with Day at the time, he told her he wanted to appoint her, “but he didn’t think the community was ready for a woman athletic director.”
Under Bourdet, Hill was number two in the department, in charge of seventeen sports (all except football and men’s basketball). She was, even then, the nation’s highest ranking woman in college sports. In December of 1982, Bourdet suffered a heart attack, and five months later, he decided to step down as athletic director. On June 10, 1983, Day announced that Hill would take Bourdet’s place.
The press loved Mary Alice Hill. She was friendly, nice looking, flashed a million-dollar grin for photographers, and had a past that could be romanticized — sometimes to the point of embarrassment — into splendid articles. The ugly legal battle she’d fought with Colorado State no longer raised suspicions; instead, from accounts of it. Hill emerged as a crusader for women’s rights, a modern-day Joan of Arc. She’d been brought up in a Catholic family on a Missouri farm, and her character could be captured in bite-size anecdotes from her youth. For example, she was once called out of study hall to practice with the boys’ basketball team back in high school. In 1967, after the family home was destroyed by a tornado, Mary manned a bulldozer and dug a new basement. As a student at Northeast Missouri State College, she learned to throw the discus and the javelin just five days before the statewide track meet. With virtually no training, she stunned the field by placing third in the discus and fourth in javelin, then came back the next year and won both events. Hill hoped to compete in the 1968 summer Olympics, but two weeks before qualifying trials, her dreams were dashed when she suffered an ankle injury while practicing a discus throw.
One source close to the department suggested that the extremely favorable coverage in the media accorded to Hill may have hurt her in the long run. “The press couldn’t see beyond their own jockstraps,” he said. “Their attitude was, ‘I’m going to treat her like a lady. I’m not going to look at her simply as an athletic director, but as a female athletic director.’ If the press had done their traditional job, looking at the issue with a jaundiced eye, the problems in her department would have come out much earlier, and maybe none of this would have happened”
On August 8, 1983, Thomas Day officially made Hill “acting” athletic director. Though he added the “acting” qualifier — perhaps his way of revealing the doubts, shared by many, that a woman could survive in the male-dominated world of college sports — Day stood solidly behind his choice and expressed great confidence in her. Hill admitted there may have been some “lingering old-boyism” at SDSU, but she was confident she could overcome it. It was less obvious that Hill could overcome the department’s disastrous financial state. Her rise at SDSU had coincided with the school’s fall as a football powerhouse, and poor attendance at games had devastated the athletic department budget, which depends heavily on football revenues. Hill inherited a two-million-dollar deficit accumulated during Bourdet’s four-year tenure, and for her first year, the department had forecast a $175,000 loss.
No one could seriously blame Hill for the athletic department’s problems, which continually made headlines. In January of 1984, the basketball team was placed on probation for rules infractions. A few months later, it was announced that three minor sports might be eliminated due to budget problems. Hill was ordered to cut $600,000 from the department’s nineteen athletic programs. She had to release three staff members, and there was even talk that the cherished football program was in danger. In August of 1984, Hill was quoted as saying the department had “reached bottom” but was “on the road back.” However, a Las Vegas Sun article in November hinted that the “lingering old-boyism” Hill had referred to might be asserting itself more strongly. The article, which appeared near the end of another miserable football season (four wins, nine losses, one tie), reported that Hill had “detractors” and quoted an unnamed male athletic department source who told the Sun, “Everybody has faults, and some of the criticism (of Hill] has merit, but there’s a sentiment, both on campus and off, that people don’t want her to succeed just because she’s a woman. They don’t want a woman to run San Diego State (athletics). It’s not basically anti-Mary, though. It’s more anti-woman.”
Numerous sources for this story, almost all of whom demanded anonymity, stated unequivocally that Hill was not a skilled administrator. According to these sources. Hill was “disorganized,” she “flew by the seat of her pants,” and she was “in way over her head.” A San Diego Union article that appeared after Hill’s firing included quotations from several staff members who suggested that Hill’s own shortcomings, administrative and personal, contributed to her downfall. However, before the tumult in July of 1985, one is hard pressed to find an article that criticizes Mary Alice Hill. On the contrary, the theme repeated time and again in the local papers was that Hill, because she was a woman, did not get the support she needed to run her department.
In April of 1984, Tribune sports editor Tom Cushman blasted SDSU vice president for student affairs Dan Nowak, who, from press reports and according to Hill, often emerged as an opponent of Hill’s policies. Cushman (who coined the term “Black and Blue Wednesday”) attended a meeting at SDSU in which the university considered a budget that would cut funds for three sports. Nowak recommended a proposal that, Cushman felt, would unfairly blame Hill for budget cuts mandated by the administration. Cushman wrote in his column, “Listening to Nowak, I was reminded of the platoon sergeant who turns to one of his foot soldiers and says, ‘Joe, you and I have been ordered to wipe out the machine gun nest on that ridge over there. When you get back, be sure to stop by and let me know how it went.’ ”
Articles in the local papers, as well as Hill herself, offer numerous examples to demonstrate how the university failed to support her during her tenure as athletic director. Hill claims that Nowak slowed down, for a year and a half, the creation of an advisory committee she’d proposed to prevent exploitation of student athletes by sports agents. According to Hill, Nowak also “roadblocked” her mandatory drug testing system, which she proposed after a student advisory board requested it. Nowak wrote to Hill on January 22, 1985, suggesting that “enormously complex legal, philosophical, and ethical implications are... created by a mandatory program of this nature,” that a forum would have to be created, and that “this may slow down implementation of the program.” An athletic department staff member, who requested anonymity, concurs with Hill’s belief that she failed to implement this and other programs because the administration consistently refused to support her. “If the athletic director wanted the drug program so bad, why didn’t it happen?” the staff member says. “It seems that these days [current athletic director] Fred Miller gets whatever he asks for. Mary said she was going to do all kinds of things, but they never got done. Someone stopped these things. I don’t know who, but someone was stopping them.”
Another staff member acknowledges that Hill rarely got what she wanted but says it had less to do with her sex than with her inability to play politics. “Mary always felt people were out to get her because she was a woman,” he says. “Instead of playing the game, she’d take on the people she needed to help her. You’ve got to kiss ass sometimes. Bourdet did. You’ve got to take Nowak out to lunch now and then, even if you hate him. I think maybe the reason Hill never did any of these things was because she felt Day would always support her.” Another source offered a simpler explanation: “If Fred Miller gets what he wants, maybe it’s because he’s more forceful. That’s part of being an administrator.”
During the tense weeks before Black and Blue Wednesday, the academic administration created turmoil in the athletic department by delaying a decision concerning the status of seven SDSU basketball prospects. The students, whose acceptance was crucial to the future of David “Smokey” Gaines’s basketball program, met NCAA academic requirements, but the administration wanted to implement a higher standard. Once again, it was widely reported that Dan Nowak appeared to be the major obstacle to admitting the students, and Hill ended up taking criticism for the administration’s stand. “My position was that the university had a moral obligation to tell these kids whether they’d be coming here or not,” she said recently. “I was getting angry phone calls from the kids’ parents and from basketball boosters who were all riled because we wouldn’t let the kids in. But until the university took a position, there was nothing I could do.” Hill was fired in the midst of this controversy, and all of the students were eventually admitted.
The staff member quoted above cautions against making Nowak the villain, pointing out that tension between academicians and the athletic department is not only normal, but necessary. “The administration had been on Smokey [Gaines] for years to get some recruits who were good students. Every year Smokey would say, ‘Just this once, give me these students.’ ” Hill acknowledges this, but she insists that Gaines was never given precise, written guidelines and that he sent letters of intent to the students in the spring, yet the administration still hadn't made its decision a month before classes began in the fall.
In early 1985, not long after she learned that her salary would increase to $56,904, Hill suffered stomach ulcers, no doubt the result of stress from working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. After the $600,000 budget cut. Hill was running her department with no associate athletic director (current athletic director Fred Miller has four). In addition to the excessive workload, there was also tension between her and certain staff members. In the spring of 1985, Hill hinted that she might be contemplating personnel changes when she asked her staff to evaluate her administrators, including business director Gabe Ortiz and Aztec Athletic Foundation fundraiser Steve Cushman, both of whom she fired on July 24, 1985.
On June 17, President Day called Hill into his office to discuss an NCAA conference she was soon to attend in New Orleans. According to Hill, Day brought up another issue just before she left. “He said, ‘Mary, I’m worried about your health,' ” Hill recalled recently. “I told him I was fine and that the ulcers had cleared up months ago. He said he’d heard reports that I had not been returning phone calls and not showing up at meetings.” Hill pressed Day for precise details about these reports, but he would only repeat that he was worried and insisted that when she returned from the conference in New Orleans, she should see personnel director Sally Roush to discuss a stress-reduction program.
Hill left the meeting shaken. She felt that her relationship with Day had always been excellent. He was the man who had made possible her dream of becoming an athletic director, and he’d always supported her when it seemed others on campus were trying to thwart her efforts. When a local organization called Women in Business nominated Hill for its “Woman of the Year” award in 1984, she’d invited Day to come attend the presentation. She wanted him right by her side when they named her San Diego’s most outstanding woman. Why was he suddenly concerned about her health? Where were these reports coming from? Why were people talking behind her back? And why wouldn’t Day offer any details?
Soon after Hill returned from the New Orleans conference at the end of June, 1985, she received a phone call from the NCAA. The caller told her that the SDSU athletic department’s business offices had called and requested a list of all reimbursement checks for Hill’s travel expenses. There was only one reason to do so, Hill thought, and that was to verify that she wasn’t stealing money. Someone in her department, a subordinate, was auditing her. Hill immediately confronted her business manager, Gabe Ortiz, who, according to Hill, admitted having requested the list but replied ambiguously when asked why he'd done so. Hill responded by conducting her own investigation of Ortiz.
On July 16, she met with Sally Roush, as Day had requested, but there was little specific talk of stress. Mostly, the two women discussed personnel problems, particularly the fact that the athletic department was understaffed and everyone was overworked. Hill reminded Roush that back in April she'd asked for a “workload study” to help justify adding new staff and possibly cutting certain positions. Hill repeated complaints she’d made before concerning the performance of her secretary, Muriel Kulikowski. Hill says she told Roush that Kulikowski was probably responsible for the unanswered phone calls and the missed meetings Day had mentioned on June 17, and that Kulikowski’s secretarial skills were far below what she’d been told when Kulikowski began the job in October of 1984.
At the July 16 meeting, Hill also mentioned to Roush that Gabe Ortiz was a “real problem” and that she wanted him out of the department. Hill admitted recently that one of the reasons she wanted the workload study was to provide justification for eliminating Ortiz’s position. His attempt to audit her, as well as the results of his evaluation by other staff members, which Hill felt were less than satisfactory, only hardened her resolve to fire him.
However coincidental the timing, a mysterious juxtaposition of circumstances and events in the summer of 1985 explains the crescendo of anxiety Hill experienced leading up to Black and Blue Wednesday. As if it weren’t enough that her closest ally on campus. President Day, was hearing rumors about her performance, and that a subordinate was auditing her. Hill discovered in early July that a powerful Aztec booster wanted her replaced as athletic director.
Between July 5 and July 16, Hill engaged in heated correspondence with Tom Stickel, an SDSU graduate and one of two San Diego representatives on the California State University board of trustees. Stickel, an influential figure in statewide Republican politics, is chief executive officer at TCS Enterprises Inc., a holding company in Old Town. After reading an article about Hill in the Chronicle of Higher Education that he felt was filled with inaccuracies, he wrote to her, “I must be candid and fair as it pertains to this letter and its true editorial purpose. I have had reservations regarding your ability to lead the SDSU Athletic Department, and I have never been shy about expressing my beliefs in this regard. This is not an issue of gender, but rather one of perceived leadership skills.... As a local community leader and locally based trustee, a number of business and community leaders have taken the liberty to convey their respective displeasure with your tenure as Athletic Director...”
In her reply. Hill wrote that whereas he was entitled to his opinion, “only time will tell” whether she would succeed as director. Stickel responded on July 16. He had discovered that Hill had sent copies of his first letter to several other boosters, and he was furious about it. He referred to Hill’s “backdoor and unprofessional tactics” and concluded by saying, “...our athletic department, the focus of the most attention and the score card the public looks at first, has done little, if anything, to hold up its end under your guidance. Finally, your letter stated, ‘only time will tell.* Mary, it already has.”
According to Hill, during a meeting with Thomas Day on July 25, the president mentioned that he had met with Tom Stickel to discuss the circumstances of the letters. Stickel admitted in a recent interview that as a university trustee he meets occasionally with Day, but he said he never met with him specifically to discuss his letters to Hill, and he never conspired to get rid of her. “There were no phone calls, no discussion outside of those letters,” Stickel said. “I came across the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I thought it was a puff piece, a bunch of junk. It was a gut emotion, and I just fired off the letter directly to her.”
Another tempest was brewing concerning the issue of television rights for Aztec football games for the 1985 season. During Hill’s two-year tenure as athletic director, the football team had won only six of twenty-six games, and attendance was at a historic low. To the boosters who criticized Hill, her greatest weakness was her perceived failure to rebuild the football program, and Hill was aware of this pressure. It is perhaps for this reason that a letter to Hill from Mike Urbano, the athletic department’s promotional consultant — written on July 16, the same day Tom Stickel wrote the more vociferous of his two letters — took on a significance it otherwise might not have. Urbano, president of Regents West Marketing, wrote to Hill that the College Football Association rules prevented televising the Aztec’s away football games. Hill thought Urbano was wrong, so she immediately contacted the CFA in Colorado and spoke with director of communications Dick Snyder, who checked the rules and told her the games could be televised. In a letter dated July 22, he confirmed that SDSU had the right to televise away games against Utah, the University of Texas at El Paso, New Mexico, and UCLA. It appeared to Hill that she had proof Urbano had made an error that could have cost her department many thousands of dollars.
Hill had been unhappy with Aztec Athletic Foundation fundraiser Steve Cushman’s performance for some time, and she had decided to investigate him along with Ortiz. “We weren’t raising the money I thought was out there to raise,” Hill said in a recent interview. Her investigation suggested to her that Cushman may have failed to record some pledges from donors and that pledge figures recorded earlier in the year may have been higher than the actual amounts received by the AAF. Although initial pledge figures generally exceed the amount actually collected, Hfll alleged that the difference was “greater than usual.”
Among Gabe Ortiz’s travel documents. Hill found three instances in which Ortiz had signed the name “Mary A. Hill” on his own travel forms. Hill claims she never gave anyone permission to sign her name and that she had no idea people were doing so. “Ortiz was signing my name for his own reimbursements,” Hill says. “You have to have a supervisor’s signature. Not to have it is bad bookkeeping. And it’s a violation of state policy.”
According to Hill, Sally Roush suggested at their July 16 meeting that Hill try to document evidence suggesting that her secretary, Muriel Kulikowski, was misplacing items and not relaying messages. So on several occasions. Hill searched Kulikowski’s desk and wastebasket. Hill says she retrieved numerous telephone message slips Kulikowski had never passed on to her, as well as letters (both originals and copies) she had dictated to Kulikowski but which were never sent. These included letters to actor Tom Selleck (to participate in a volleyball tournament), singer Dolly Parton (to attend an awards ceremony). University of San Diego athletic director Reverend Patrick Cahill, and Padres president Ballard Smith. (Kulikowski refused to be interviewed for this article or to respond to Hill’s charges).
In Kulikowski’s desk. Hill says she found two checks, one for $629 from the Holiday Bowl dated February 28, 1985, and another for $300 from the NCAA dated June 18, 1985. Both were made out to Hill, and, she claims, Kulikowski was supposed to have deposited them in the SDSU account. On July 10, 1985, Gabe Ortiz’s secretary wrote to Kulikowski for a copy of a letter to Ballard Smith regarding revenues generated by the new Padres scoreboard. Kulikowski replied, “Mary Hill has not written Mr. Smith re this subject as of this date. When she docs, you’ll get a copy.’’ Yet Hill says she found in the wastebasket a letter she’d written to Smith on April 26, 1985 (apparently the letter was typed by another secretary). Hill says that over a period of several weeks, Kulikowski repeatedly told her she had called the Padres front office but that Smith was not returning phone calls. “On July 23, I asked her to call Ballard, but she said she couldn’t get through,” Hill explained in a recent interview. “Finally I just said give me the phone and I’ll call him. I dialed Smith and got directly through to him. He told me he’d never received any letters or phone messages from me.”
Hill doesn’t deny having had the thought that someone was out to get her. She admits having confronted Kulikowski on July 23 with the checks, letters, message slips, and other items found in the wastebasket, and asked her, “Who are you working for, me or someone else?” She admits having put together the baffling and suspicious circumstances of the previous weeks — what she perceived to be Kulikowski’s incompetence, Urbano’s misinformation, Ortiz’s provocative audit, Cushman’s inflated donation figures. Day’s evasiveness, and Stickel’s hostile letters — and contemplated the possibility there was a conspiracy to disrupt the department and provide President Day an excuse to fire her. Conspiracy or not, the athletic department appeared out of her control, so Hill decided to take it back. On July 23, she and Kulikowski argued heatedly, and according to Hill, Kulikowski angrily packed her personal effects, left the office, and reported to personnel director Sally Roush for reassignment somewhere else. On Wednesday, July 24, Hill fired Gabe Ortiz and Steve Cushman and severed Mike Urbano’s contract.
President Day was on vacation and was not scheduled to return to work until the following Monday, but Hill wanted to talk to him. So she called his office at about 11:00 a.m. and asked for his home phone number. Surprisingly, Day was in the office. Hill recalls that the president was very upset over the firings but couldn’t meet with her to discuss them until the next morning. At about 2:00 p.m., before he’d even asked Hill why she acted so abruptly. Day reversed Hill’s decision and reinstated the dismissed employees.
Personnel director Sally Roush’s handwritten notes reveal that between June and August of 1985, Thomas Day had more information about athletic department activities than anyone suspected. They also demonstrate how very serious the problems in the department really were, suggesting either that a massive conspiracy existed to oust Hill or that Hill was nearing a mental collapse. The notes were given to Hill in her request for production of documents. Here are excerpts from these documents, the existence and contents of which Hill knew nothing about until September 6, 1985, four weeks after she was officially fired.
June 11, 1985: President Day received the first of many strange reports about athletic director Mary Alice Hill. Sally Roush had spoken the day before to assistant athletic director Marilyn Hatcher and had taken notes on their conversation. “Marilyn should let Mary know very clearly that Marilyn doesn’t >vant to hear anything more about mysticism,” wrote Roush. “Marilyn should commit to me to let me know immediately if Mary brings up mysticism again at all after Marilyn tells her to stop.”
June 13: “Marilyn told Mary that Mary had upset her by talk of mystic and exorcist,” Roush’s notes read. (Not revealed in the notes was another rumor that was circulating at SDSU suggesting that Hill was making department decisions based on advice from her psychic, a Los Angeles woman named Marie.)
July 17: Roush’s notes on this day suggest that Mary Hill’s behavior had become extremely bizarre. One can imagine how university president Thomas Day felt when he read the following account concerning the person running SDSU’s six-million-dollar athletic department: “Mary pulled Marilyn out of a meeting in La Jolla, said it was an emergency. When Marilyn arrived, Mary wouldn’t talk to her anywhere except in Marilyn’s car because Mary said both offices and Mary’s car were bugged. She had Marilyn drive her in Marilyn’s car to another campus parking lot and then follow Muriel Kulikowsky [sic] to the credit union, then to a Chinese restaurant in La Mesa. Mary’s reason was that she has a private investigator hired who has proof that Muriel is having an affair with [SDSU vice president] Dan Nowak, who has thereby ‘infiltrated’ Mary’s organization. Mary told Marilyn she is going to the President with this info next week, and that instead of going on vacation to Puerta Vallarta she is going to park her motor home somewhere where she can photograph Muriel/Nowak together.”
July 19: Roush’s notes are cryptic. “[Hatcher] checked with her attorney. He advised her not to be the reason for confronting Mary with mysticism, etc, but to proceed with ‘this sexual harassment business.’ Only if we could ‘guarantee’ [sic] Marilyn’s personal safety/ well being could she consider letting the info be brought out.” It is not clear why
Hatcher needed to “confront Mary with mysticism,” nor did the university ever reveal details concerning Hatcher’s sexual harassment charge against Hill. It is equally uncertain why Hatcher believed she was in danger and what “info” she considered revealing.
July 22: Hatcher called Roush and told her that Hill believed Gabe Ortiz had “joined with Dan [Nowak] in conspiring against her.” Hatcher told Roush that Mary had gone into Kulikowski’s office over the weekend and taken things from her desk because “Mary wanted Muriel to be nervous about the missing things. Muriel filed report with Public Safety; Mary lied to officer about what she knew.... Conspiracy between Gabe, Mike Urbano, Dan against Mary relative to CFA [College Football Association] television contract. Muriel intentionally losing phone messages, etc.” Hatcher said that during a meeting with basketball coach Smokey Gaines, Hill had said that “Dan is after Smokey’s job, Mary’s job, and wants President Day’s job and that she’s going to tell the president.”
July 23: Hatcher again called Roush and said that Mike Urbano, the promotional consultant, had been “fired by letter today,” that Muriel Kulikowski had been fired (Hill disputes this), that Gabe Ortiz had been demoted, and that Hill intended to fire football coach Doug Scovil.
July 24: Hatcher came to Roush’s office on Hill’s orders to pick up “procedures for firing employees.” Hill, Hatcher said, intended to fire six people. Roush’s notes read: “Marilyn asked Mary if she had talked to me. Mary said no, that Sally [Roush] is involved, too, people all over campus will lose their jobs. It has to do with fraud and embezzlement.”
July 25: At 8:00 a.m. Day met with Hill and her private attorney. Roush’s “notes for meeting,” which appear to be an agenda and which apparently were written down before the meeting took place, contain the following items: “Wrong to fire without discussing with president first. Poor judgment to fire so many at once. Poor judgment not to share all evidence with president first (e.g., evidence of criminal acts, evidence of bugging). Terminations are without proper authority and until evidence is examined by their officers and legal counsel, no terminations are in effect. Charges are grave, and sound disproportionate to what little evidence is now available, and her behavior has been questionable. Clearly under stress. Placed on sick leave until further notice.” Day asked Hill at this meeting to undergo a physical and psychiatric evaluation with a physician designated by the university. Hill called the request “a violation of her human rights” and had the examination conducted by another doctor at Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Roush made separate notes about the meeting itself. She wrote that Hill said to Day, “Dan Nowak wants your job — and if I go down, you go down. That’s why I’ve been working like hell because of what I feel about you — you went out on a limb for me (She started to cry — chin was trembling). Eight people should be replaced. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ve always done that.” Roush’s notes continue: “President said either the office is all screwed up or there is a conspiracy. I find that hard to believe. I trust my vice presidents.” The circumstances of the July 25 meeting trouble Hill. When she went to Day’s office carrying folders full of documents to justify her actions of the day before, she expected Day to support her decision fully. “But before I could say anything,” Hill recalled in a recent interview, “he said, ‘I’m putting you on sick leave for two weeks.’ I said to him, ‘But you haven’t even asked me why I did this! Don’t you want to see these documents?’ ” Hill believes that Day’s attitude during the meeting, the request that she undergo a psychiatric exam, and the July 25 meeting agenda stating she would be placed on sick leave indicate that Day had already made up his mind before even speaking to her. Roush’s notes from July 22 and July 23 raise further suspicion in Hill’s mind. “They knew I was going to fire those people the day before I did it,” she said. “So why didn’t Tom Day call me up and talk to me about it?” Hill wonders why Day was in his office on Black and Blue Wednesday when he was supposed to be on vacation. “It’s almost as if they knew what I was going to do, but they were just going to let me act the whole thing out,” Hill said.
Thomas Day has never explained his curious decision not to ask Hill if the information in Roush’s notes was true or not. Though no one, even when quoted anonymously, would guess why Day chose not to do so, several sources for this article suggested that Day had little choice but to act as he did. Said one athletic department source, “From Day’s point of view, if you let the [fired employees] go and don’t show them due process, they’d turn around and sue the university. Day might have simply been trying to forestall lawsuits.”
July 26: Roush’s notes read, “Marilyn Hatcher called. San Diego Union reporter called her last night at about 11:00, said he heard a rumor that Muriel had filed a sexual harassment complaint about Mary.... President called. [SDSU biology professor Robert] Rinehardt [j/c] mentioned a concern about alcoholism/Mary.... At about 3:30 July 25 Mary asked Marilyn to meet her outside. Told Marilyn her life may be in danger — $2.2 million drug deal on campus every day — 5000 people have died so far. ‘Bob’ in San Diego Police Department investigating on a volunteer basis...”
August 20: Roush received a phone call from Hill’s former secretary, Muriel Kulikowski, who had been contacted by a Los Angeles mystic named Marie, the same one Hill had supposedly consulted. Kulikowski gave Roush this account of her discussion with Marie: “Muriel is to contact [Hill’s lawyer J. Stacey] Sullivan because Nowak and Day are very involved in drug deal and FBI knows; and Muriel should contact Sullivan to get his protection against trying to kill her. She (Muriel) is key to the whole thing. Nowak is behind all this, his operatives are behind this trying to kill Muriel.... Day and Nowak very involved in drugs and Mary just happened to stumble across it.”
August 23: Roush’s notes read, “I spoke with Marilyn at length. She is advised by numerous friends to sue university (for what? She wouldn’t say); everyone upset by today’s Tribune article [in which] Mary said, ‘it will all come out later.’ Gabe says he will sue Mary, Cushman says he will also. Muriel frightened; upset from mystic calling her. ‘What if Mary shows up at my door with a gun?’ I think this is acting out behavior from Mary, not dangerous, but nuisance.”
Sitting in her office at the Atlas Hotels corporate office in Mission Valley, where she now directs a fitness program. Hill appears to be as normal as the Scripps psychiatrist said she was. Judging from her demeanor, it’s clear why so many Aztec Athletic Foundation donors and others expressed disbelief when rumors spread about Hill’s “erratic” behavior. Hill’s close friend, Jim Webb, was shocked when he read Roush’s notes. “I’d known Mary personally, and I know the other members of her family, and it didn’t add up at all,” said Webb, vice president of contracts and pricing for Teledyne Ryan. “My first thought was that for some reason. Day had to be under a lot of pressure to get rid of her.” Hill believes that the notes were intentionally constructed to portray her as erratic and cast doubt on her sanity, at least in the eyes of Thomas Day. One athletic department source insists that after Hill was fired, there were many rumors but little hard evidence of Hill’s “erratic” behavior. “Why did only Hatcher see these things and nobody else? She and Muriel [Kulikowski] are the only two people who I’ve heard had firsthand knowledge of them.”
Although Hill contends that Hatcher distorted the truth in her reports to Roush, she acknowledges having done many of the things that led Day to believe she was erratic. Item by item. Hill goes over Roush's notes. She denies talking excessively about mystics. She admits, however, that an acquaintance piqued her interest and that on one occasion, in February of 1985, she paid one hundred dollars to consult the psychic Marie. She also attended two of Marie’s handwriting analysis classes and once allowed Marie to spend a few days at her home. But Hill denies psychics ever played a big role in her life. “Marilyn was always asking me to talk about Marie,” she says. “She always brought it up, not me.” (Hatcher refused to comment on Hill’s firing.)
Hill admits she was thinking about getting a private investigator but insists she never hired one or said she had. Most importantly — and this is sure to be a key issue in her lawsuit, should it ever come to trial — Hill denies ever using the words conspiracy, fraud, or embezzlement. “Those are words Hatcher or Roush used in the notes, and words Day used later on,” Hill maintains. “I told Day I fired Ortiz and Cushman because of their evaluations, and I stressed that the evidence in the documents was merely the last straw, the reason I dismissed them with such expediency.”
Steve Cushman, who left SDSU in June and now works for the Southwest Museum in Pasadena, emphatically asserts that Hill did in fact accuse him of criminal behavior. “She told me I was fired because she had evidence that I was stealing from the athletic department. She used the words fraud and embezzlement.” More than a year after the fact, Cushman is still angry at Hill, whose actions he believes were “detrimental to my family and my career.” Cushman says he still may sue Hill over the incident.
Though Hill denies that she “pulled” Hatcher out of the La Jolla meeting, she acknowledges having asked to speak to her about a phone call she’d received. She told Hatcher that an anonymous caller had said that vice president Dan Nowak and Muriel Kulikowski were having an affair. Though Hill says she never used the word conspiracy, she admits having suggested that she and Hatcher follow Kulikowski to lunch to see if in fact Nowak was meeting with her. Hatcher agreed and, according to Hill, offered to drive. The two women waited outside the restaurant for a while but saw no sign of Nowak. Hill denies ever having suggested that she would cancel her Mexican trip to spy on her secretary. “That’s ridiculous,” she says.
Even more ridiculous. Hill says, are the allusions to drug deals on campus, 5000 people dying, and police investigations. “I never said any of that; I don't even know a Bob in the police department.” Hill believes that, in general, the notes reflect Marilyn Hatcher’s tendency to distort information in order to make her appear erratic. For example. Hill denies suggesting that Dan Nowak had infiltrated the athletic department or that Gabe Ortiz had joined Nowak in a conspiracy. “What I probably said was that I found out that Gabe was auditing me, and I may have said I couldn't believe he’d done the audit on his own, that someone asked him to do it. I never said there was a conspiracy. This is a good example of how Marilyn takes a shred of evidence and blows it to crazy proportions.” Hill admits she may have said her office was bugged, but she claims the notion came from a friend of hers who is also a major Aztec booster. She would often use public phone booths rather than her office phone because there seemed to be so much disloyalty among her staff. “Everything I did or said was reported to the administration,” she says. “I’d say something and then wait to see how long it took for it to travel all over campus and then come back to me.” One athletic department staff member, a person who played no role in the shakeup itself, is certain that Hill really believed her office was bugged. “About a week before the firings, I met with her in her office,” recalls the staff member, who requested anonymity. “She took me outside to talk because she thought her phones were tapped.”
SDSU’s in-house audit, published on August 20, 1985, concluded that Hill’s allegations against Ortiz, Cushman, Urbano, and Kulikowski were essentially without substance. Sally Roush investigated Hill’s allegations regarding Muriel Kulikowski and found “no intention of intentional fraud or actions taken with intent to discredit Mary.” Hill insists Roush conducted her inquiry without ever asking her to clarify the documents presented. Roush wrote in a memo that Hill missed two meetings at which she could have given such explanation. Roush found enough evidence among Hill’s documents to conclude that “Ms. Kulikowski may have been overwhelmed by the requirements of the position.”
Ellene Anderson, the accountant in charge of the audit, checked into Steve Cushman’s handling of Aztec Athletic Foundation pledges. In a recent interview, she explained that she sent out a notice to all AAF donors (approximately 1200) to verify that pledges were in fact being recorded and recorded correctly. She reiterated her conclusions of last August that discrepancies between amounts pledged and amounts recorded by the AAF “result from a lack of coordination in the processing of pledges and receipts and not from any improprieties.” Hill, who emphasizes that she was never contacted by any of the auditors to explain her allegations, defends her dismissal of Cushman: “Since I’d gone out and raised funds for his position in the first place [Hill solicited $50,000 from Atlas Hotels president Terry Brown to pay the chief fundraiser], I should have been able to replace him whenever I wanted.”
The university’s investigation of Ortiz concluded that he had indeed signed Hill’s name improperly three times on travel documents. Day later admitted on a radio show that Ortiz’s actions were “improper” but “innocent,” because no evidence of fraud was found. “Ortiz was a [San Diego State] Foundation employee, not a state employee, and I had every right to fire him,” Hill says. “It’s written in my job description, and when I met with Roush [on July 16], she told me I had every right to let him go”
In a recent interview with Mike Urbano, whose company still contracts with SDSU under the new name U&K Marketing, it became clear how, during the suspicion-charged days of July, 1985, a simple miscommunication could lead to extreme consequences. Despite Hill’s letter from Dick Snyder of the College Football Association, which clearly stated that SDSU’s away football games could be televised, the SDSU audit concluded in August of 1985 that Urbano had been correct in saying that the games could not be televised. An SDSU auditor wrote in a memo that he had contacted CFA director Chuck Neinas and was told exactly the opposite of what Dick Snyder had written to Hill. The reason for this was clarified in the recent discussion with Urbano. After probing his files on the matter for more than an hour, Urbano finally discovered the glitch. For some reason, Snyder thought Utah, UTEP, and New Mexico were away games. In fact they were home games and could not be televised. Hill believed the CFA might have been able to offer exemptions that would permit telecast of the actual away games, but Urbano says he called CFA and was told no exemptions were possible. Urbano says, “All Mary had to do was call me in and say, ‘Explain what’s happened.’ But she never did that. If she had, she’d have seen that she and Snyder had had a misunderstanding, and this whole thing could have been avoided.”
On October 3, 1985, Hill met again with "Thomas Day. Accompanied by her friend Jim Webb, she asked Day one last time to reconsider his decision. Day, who had emphasized all along that Hill had wrongfully dismissed employees under a “cloud” of allegations that had no basis in fact, refused Hill’s request for reinstatement. The meeting, however, gave Hill an opportunity to bring up the sexual harassment charges, which mystify her to this day. Both she and Webb pressed Day for details on the incidents, supposedly involving Marilyn Hatcher and Muriel Kulikowski. When did they occur? What were the circumstances? Day wouldn’t say, although Webb recalls that Day admitted he was aware of the charges several months before Hill was fired. Webb also recalls Day as saying “everybody on the campus knew about it.” To which Hill replied, “Everyone but the one accused." Hill remembers telling Day that if he’d really wanted to know what happened, he'd have called her into his office along with Hatcher and listened to both sides at once.
According to Webb, Day replied that it was his policy not to intervene if he didn’t perceive a noticeable change in the work habits of those involved. “I don’t know anyone in the business world who would take that cavalier an attitude toward such a serious problem,” said Webb recently. “When you have allegations of sex harassment, you deal with them instantly. The liabilities can be devastating.”
In December of 1985, Hill petitioned the superior court for an order blocking the appointment of her successor, Fred Miller, until she was accorded a due-process hearing by SDSU. Court documents revealed that Hill had recently applied for a job at Scripps Hospital McDonald Center in La Jolla but was turned down because of the sex harassment charges. Jim Webb filed a statement in court testifying that Len Baltzer, a McDonald Center assistant administrator, told him that Marilyn Hatcher had informed hospital board members of the sexual harassment charges and that the chaige substantially influenced their decision not to hire Hill.
In her petition to the court, Hill charged that she had been denied due process and was fired based at least in part upon allegations she knew nothing about and never had a chance to deny. On March 26, 1986, Judge Mack Lovett ruled that there had been no “abuse of discretion” by SDSU and that the university had substantial evidence to fire Hill. Key to the ruling was Lovett’s conclusion that Hill did not have “permanent status” at SDSU but was an “at will” employee serving at the pleasure of President Day. As an “at will” employee, Lovett ruled. Hill was “not entitled to the same procedures and processes as a permanent employee.” Hill’s attorney, Christopher Ashcraft, has appealed the decision.
In the days following Hill’s dismissal-of Ortiz, Cushman, and Urbano, one athletic department employee told Day his policy of not talking to the press was a grievous mistake that merely fueled suspicions. Day disagreed, suggesting that if everyone refused to comment, the story eventually would run out of gas. Though Day may have been wrong on that count, his silence served him well in court. Hill contended that Day’s request that she take a psychiatric exam resulted in a “stigma” against her, but Lovett ruled that the university “attempted to handle the matter in a confidential manner, whereas Hill publicized her position through the ‘press.’ Any ‘stigma’ that may have occurred is due to Hill’s conduct, not [the] university’s.”
Immediately after Hill was fired, her predecessor. Gene Bourdet, was quoted in the papers as saying, “For a woman, [being athletic director] is doubly difficult, because of the good-old-boys, back-room work that goes on. It’s a club.” The simple truth in that statement may have been missed in the frenzy that followed Black and Blue Wednesday in July of 1985. Even those who believe Hill acted wrongly seem to agree that Hill couldn’t work in the Aztec athletic community’s old-boy network. However, Hill’s adversaries disagree with her defenders in saying that she failed due to her own inadequacies, not due to a conspiracy. “Tom Day wanted to make a statement about women and to go down in history as the first president to hire a woman athletic director,” one critic of Hill said. “But he picked the wrong woman.”
The nation’s First female athletic director obviously disagrees, and she sees in her experience a warning to other women who might attempt to follow in her footsteps. “The biggest mistake I made was to think I would be evaluated only on my performance and not on the fact I was male or female,” she said. “I didn’t think it made a difference. But it did.”
An athletic department staff member sees a sad irony in the fall of Mary Alice Hill. “If she'd just done it [fired the employees] with some subtlety, she could have pulled it all off,” he says. “But you can’t Fire three people on the athletic department staff in one morning. If she’d just thought about it and not acted so quickly, she could have got everything she wanted.”
Both supporters and detractors of Hill anticipate a blood bath if her lawsuit goes to trial, when the buckled lips of Thomas Day, Marilyn Hatcher, Muriel Kulikowski, and others snap open in court. A frightful number of issues in the case contrapose Hill’s word against someone else’s. This, and the fact the defense will probably need to justify having ordered the psychiatric evaluation, portend the possibility of an all-out assault on Hill’s character. One source for this article claims SDSU has already got its witnesses lined up and ready to go. Hill says she knows the trial could get very ugly. She also knows that her allegations against those she Fired reveal a little smoke but no Fine. Yet she is confident she can prove she was wrongfully terminated and, in particular, that the university discriminated against her because of her gender. “If Day had said to me, ‘I don’t like the job you’re doing. I’m going to move you out,’ that would have been Fine,” Hill says. “But to portray me to the community as someone who is unstable and to accuse me of so many things that aren’t true, I can’t accept that. That destroyed my career. I’ve applied for forty jobs since I left SDSU and don’t know if I’ll ever Find a job in athletics again. What do I have to lose in Fighting back?”
Mary Alice Hill put on sick leave, July 23
July 2S. 1985 Mary Alice Hill, Director Intercollegiate Athletics San Diego State University
Dear Mary Alice,
Because of the grave nature of tne concerns you raised this norning I feel It Is essential to be clear about the actions I am taking to ensure your own personal well being and to investigate tne situation carefully.
As we agreed you will be on sick leave for at least two weeks beginning Monday, July 29. and you will work with Sally Roush who will arrange for medical exam-(nations as she deems necessary. You should stay in touch wttn her and meet with her as necessary. You should also work with her or her designee to review tne material relative to your secretary.
While you're on sick leave you should be available to provide vice President Erickson with information on pending activities In Athletics and to review with him the evidence you have collected regarding Ortiz, Cushman. Urbano and any others. Mr. Erickson will be responsible for the investigation into the financial matters and additionally will undertake a complete audit of the Athletic Department.
In order to ensure a thorough and complete Investigation, on Friday. July 26 I want in my office all University documents in your possession. You should not keep any University documents at home. The private investigator you hired must be informed that he does not have access to any university records that are not public. Since state law prohibits the disclosure of many such records. Including student and personnel records, I must caution you against releasing any confidential University records.
During your absence I will refer any questions In the business area to Mr. Erickson, consult others as needed; all media contacts will be handled by my office. The employees In the Athletic Department will be informed that you are on sick leave and that they are to return to business as usual. The individuals who were advised by you of termination will return to work at once.
I appreciate your confidence in me and your willingness to cooperate during this period. I have the utmost concern for your health and personal well being.
Thomas B. Day
cc: Sally Roush
Gabe Ortiz, officially reinstated, July 26
San Diego Stale University Foundation
San Diego. CA 92182-1900
July 26, 198S
Gabe Ortiz, Athletics
San Diego State University Foundation
Dear Mr. Ortiz,
The letter to you, dated July 24, 1985, from Mary Hill stating that you were terminated was not issued according to Foundation and University policy and that letter is rescinded. No copies of that letter or this one will be placed in your personnel records.
Juanita L. Brents ft/ Personnel Director
cci Thomas B. Day, President
Harry Albers, General Manager, SDSUF
bcc: Sally Roush, Director of Personnel Services