CUNY Executives Under Fire


When the retiring Chancellor of a university system is able to negotiate for himself a new position as Chancellor Emeritus worth some $3,000.000, questions of the integrity of the institution should be raised. At the City University of New York (CUNY) this happened three-and-a-half years ago, but only now is a new report advising that:

The Board of Trustees should review and reassess the April 2013 resolution and current employment arrangement considering the lack of scrutiny at the time in creating and defining a Chancellor Emeritus position, the lack of comparative financial analysis of said position, the services currently being rendered, and the value of those services; and the Board should be mindful of these issues should it consider making similar appointments in the future.

That’s from “Investigation of the City University of New York Interim Report” from the State of New York Office of the Inspector General dated November 2016. The parting “gift” to former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is not even the prime focus of the investigation. What it does, however, is illustrate a climate of grasping selfishness. It shows how some (and I emphasize that for a reason: There are many administrators acting  with consistent integrity throughout CUNY) top executives within the system take advantage of careless oversight in a climate of avariciousness established by the very top.

According to the report, “The Inspector General’s initial review identified a number of systemic concerns largely attributable to CUNY’s lack of oversight that have led to financial waste and abuse within the CUNY system.” What it doesn’t address is the clear lack of commitment to CUNY by a few at the top and the dearth of professionalism in people who, for the most part, came out of the faculty, people who went into academic fields where personal gain is not generally the goal.

Better should be expected of them.

The incidents detailed in the report are particularly galling in their pettiness, in the unnecessary grubbiness on the parts of people in no financial distress in the first place:

Brooklyn College, for example, uses Presidential Discretionary Funds to pay for a parttime housekeeper for the college president, who resides in a home owned by the college. According to the terms of a June 2015 agreement, approximately $36,000 per year is spent by the fund on this benefit.

The nearly $35,000 retirement party for Brooklyn College’s former president was also paid out of the Presidential Discretionary Fund. In an instance of questionable accounting, Brooklyn College appears to have steered funds generated from a licensing agreement between the college and certain professors into the Brooklyn College Foundation so that they would be deemed discretionary funds, and could be used for, among other things, the retirement party.

In addition, the President of Queens College received a substantial supplemental annual salary through the Queens College Foundation that was not specifically referenced in his offer letter nor approved by the CUNY Board.

Then there are the problems at City College (CCNY) that led to the president’s resignation last month, all of the same picayune nature. The Inspector General is not looking into this because the “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is currently conducting an investigation into the former CCNY President’s spending and her use of foundation funds.”

The report focuses on the structural problems that allow for this sort of misuse of funds. What saddens me is that this is happening within an organization that should operate aside from the money-focused corporate world. College and university administrators should not be looking to the financial perks of the commercial community, comparing themselves to people running entities of similar size and desiring salaries and perks in the same range (the same is true of non-profits in general). If they want to make that kind of money, they should enter business—and those who hire top academic executives should not be looking for people whose main focus is business. They should be looking for educators who also have talent for administration and whose passion is their profession, not personal financial gain.

There is more in the report, along with the implication that much more of a similar nature has been going on throughout CUNY. As a proud CUNY professor, I hope that this sort of grubby activity stops now, the perpetrators are weeded out and we can get back to our primary task of educating students and not lining a few top pockets.

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