ANNAPOLIS (AP) — State Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, has withdrawn from classes at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore amid allegations that a former aide wrote and submitted academic papers on Colburn’s behalf.
Gregory Dukes, a former legislative aide whom Colburn calls a disgruntled employee, alerted university officials in January. He says he wrote five papers for Colburn last year for two sociology courses Colburn was taking toward a bachelor’s degree.
Dukes, 36, told The (Baltimore) Sun he felt obligated to complete the papers to keep his job. He said he resigned from his legislative position in December after being ordered to perform those duties along with a variety of personal tasks for Colburn, including waiting at his home for repair workers and coordinating the sale of baseball tickets.
“If he receives any success because of what I did, I would feel bad about that,” Dukes said of Colburn, who sits on a legislative committee that oversees education issues.
Colburn, 55, rejects the allegations, saying he wrote the papers longhand and gave them to Dukes to type because he does not know how to type or use computers. He withdrew from the classes at UMES because of the demands of the legislature, not because of the allegations, he said.
“It’s his word versus my word,” Colburn said. “We’re talking about a disgruntled employee.”
Colburn said he paid Dukes for the typing and assumed the aide was doing the work on his own time, not state time. Dukes said he received $300 for the work he did in one course but nothing for the work he did for another course. Dukes said he was paid to write the papers, not transcribe them.
Dukes wrote to Anna Vaughn-Cooke, vice president for academic affairs at UMES, in January and outlined what he said was his participation in Colburn’s coursework. He apologized for his role and said he wanted the letter to be considered a formal complaint.
Ronnie Holden, vice president for administrative affairs at UMES, confirmed that Colburn is no longer enrolled and said the withdrawal came after Dukes submitted the complaint. But Holden and other university officials cited student confidentiality laws and would not comment further.
Dukes provided copies of draft papers, notes, e-mails and faxes to the university and later to the newspaper to support his allegations. One note is handwritten from Colburn to his aide, and it describes a sociology professor’s direction in writing a term paper.
“Gregory — I talked to Dr. Alston (Assistant Professor David Alston) about a term paper comparing the plight of Native American (Indians) on reservations in America vs. that of Jews in concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Dr. Alston states that he felt such a paper would be too complex. He stated to just read this chapter and try to read and quote from other authors,” the note said. It is signed, “Thanks, Rick.”
Colburn said his handwritten directions to Dukes were not orders, but simply notes from the class and discussions that he was passing on. The senator gave a similar explanation for all the notes that Dukes kept.
Dukes told The (Baltimore) Sun that Conway Gregory, a retired Chesapeake College history professor, had served as an informal academic advisor to the senator and even rewrote one of his papers, but Gregory denies the claims.
About Dukes’ remarks, Gregory told The Star Democrat, “They are just allegations. There’s no truth to it.”
Gregory taught Colburn at Chesapeake College where, he said, they first met. The two later worked together in the town of Federalsburg; the senator serves as town manager, and Gregory worked as grants administrator.
“Yes, I’m a good friend of the senator’s,” said Gregory, but, a suggestion to advise Colburn in his independent courses never came to fruition, he told The Star Democrat. “It was all just hypothetical discussions.”
Colburn, who is chairman of the Eastern Shore Senate delegation, is a member of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which considers bills on higher education policy. He received an associate’s degree from Chesapeake College in 1982 and is town manager in Federalsburg, a 2,600-resident Caroline County community.
He said he has long desired a bachelor’s degree for personal enrichment.
“I don’t know whether I’ll live long enough” to receive one, he said. “I had a bout of prostate cancer.”
Dukes was disgruntled, Colburn said, because he wanted to work out of Annapolis instead of Cambridge and Colburn refused. He said that after Dukes resigned, the aide improperly copied and removed files from the state-issued computer. The senator contacted the state attorney general’s office to get them back and said that Dukes hired an attorney.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch, who advises the General Assembly, said he got involved to ensure the files were returned. Dukes provided copies earlier this year.
Even if Dukes’ allegations are true and he wrote papers for Colburn on state time, that probably does not constitute a legal violation, Zarnoch said, because lawmakers have wide latitude in the tasks they give their employees.
Staff writer Christine Neff contributed to this story.