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Home / Articles / News / News /  Will power
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Thursday, April 22,2010

Will power

By Jefferson Dodge

Late CU professor Hazel Barnes’ bequest to university in dispute

The person charged with carrying out a bequest to the University of Colorado from one of its most prominent professors, the late Hazel Barnes, says he doesn’t trust the CU Foundation to carry out her wishes.

Her will calls for CU and the Foundation to use money in her estate to purchase a house in London for the use of faculty and graduate students in the humanities or arts, but the representative she chose to execute her will says the Foundation just wants the cash and might “flip” the house shortly after it is purchased.

But CU and Foundation officials say that nothing could be further from the truth, and they insist that there is no intent to deviate at all from Barnes’ intent for the gift. They say they have already picked out a house in London and are ready to close on the deal as soon as Barnes’ representative, Niles Utlaut, provides the funding.

Barnes, whose name graces the university’s top annual faculty prize for teaching and research, died on March 18, 2008. She was 92. The philosophy professor was a world-renowned expert on existentialism who taught at the campus from 1953 to 1986.

Two days before she died, she changed the personal representative for her will from the Bank of the West to her friend Utlaut. He says she made the move because friends convinced her that her estate might be in jeopardy otherwise, and because she was not happy with how the will of her late partner, Doris Schwalbe, was handled.

Utlaut says he is just being cautious, and wants some assurances in writing from Foundation officials that they will keep the house in London for at least a decade.

“What would you do if it were your mother?” Utlaut asked when contacted by Boulder Weekly. “That’s how I’m going to proceed.”

He claims that shortly after Barnes died, Foundation officials challenged the legitimacy of him serving as her personal representative and made those who witnessed the signing of the codicil appointing him feel intimidated.

“The Foundation just wants to be in control,” Utlaut says. “I needed to be more protective.” He says that Foundation officials have tried to take over the sale of properties in Barnes’ estate and dictate when he sold her stock. They have also challenged the language in the will requiring the purchase of the house in London, according to Utlaut, because they want to have the discretion to use the funds “for whatever purposes they had.”

Foundation officials have even threatened to file a legal challenge against Utlaut, he says.

CU Foundation President Wayne Hutchens says he is perplexed by Utlaut’s suspicions that the Foundation is going to turn around and sell the house once it’s purchased.

“I don’t know how anybody could come to that conclusion,” he told Boulder Weekly, saying that the Foundation hired a real estate agent to help find a suitable property in London and that CU Associate Vice Chancellor for Graduate Education John Stevenson looked at several houses with that agent during a trip to London last fall. Stevenson identified a property that fits the bill, and the paperwork has been started.

“We’re very close to being able to make an offer, but we don’t have the money yet,” Hutchens says. “We’d like to make an offer, but there is no money. It’s in the control of the personal representative.”

Hutchens says he is open to the idea of signing a side agreement that requires the Foundation to keep the house for a certain number of years. His only concern, he says, is that if the real estate market changes and it becomes advantageous to sell the property for a profit and pour that money into buying a nicer facility, the Foundation’s hands would be tied. Either way, he says, the Foundation is committed to using the funding solely for the London property that Barnes wanted.

“No one should have any impression that we’d do anything other than that,” he says, adding that Utlaut is “trying to over-engineer this thing a long way.”

For his part, Stevenson is also perplexed by Utlaut’s fears. He says the Foundation is “fully committed” to adhering to the intent of Barnes’ will, and that Utlaut’s suspicions are “completely and utterly unfounded.”

“I just don’t know where this paranoia is coming from,” he says.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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