Reports of secret loans, undisclosed business ventures, lavish spending, and conflicts of interest continue to paint a picture of alleged financial corruption at St. John’s University. Embattled President Father Donald Harrington has responded by calling the reports “lies and mudslinging.”
The reports came to light following the suicide, last November, by university fundraiser Cecilia Chang, vice president for international relations and dean of the Institute of Asian Studies, in the midst of her trial for fraud after reports surfaced that she had allegedly embezzled more than $1 million. President Harrington and his chief of staff and senior vice president, Rob Wile, both received numerous expensive gifts (i.e.vacations, suits, watches) from Chang.
In an interview with the independent student newspaper The Torch, President Harrington explained his practice of concluding fund raising trips to Asia with stays in Hawaii.
“I looked upon that as part of the work trip,” said Father Harrington. “You stop, you rest up so you can be in better shape when you get back.”
In an editorial in The Torch, the newspaper asked the president to confront the allegations publicly or resign.
Stories resulting from Chang's trial, her suicide, and subsequent investigations suggest that Wile has also benefited from more than $500,000 – two of them no-interest – in loans from individuals associated with the University. Wile, reportedly used one of the loans to help fund a real-estate venture with university President Harrington. Neither loan was disclosed to the board of trustees. Wile’s salary is among the highest of any university employee. In 2010, he earned $549,000.
President Harrington has declined public comment, awaiting the results of a board-mandated investigation being done by Frank Wohl, a partner in Lankler, Siffert and Wohl. New York obtained a memo from Provost Robert Mangione saying that two Faculty Forums scheduled in March had been postponed indefinitely.
“The hostility of the administration to questioning, and their indifference to faculty opinion, cannot — cannot — be overstated,” an anonymous faculty member told New York. “[Travel funding, research budgets, and course loads] are huge parts of our jobs, and we’re fearful that speaking up will result in the administration cutting back severely in these things in the future.”
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education says there’s “outrage” on campus over what staff see as lavish spending.
"The kind of excess that's associated with Cecilia Chang as a fundraiser is obviously a product of the kinds of priorities established by President Harrington," Gregory Maertz, professor of English, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Making money or raising money was above every other consideration."
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