Lack of oversight by CUNY administration has led to a system “ripe for abuse” like financial waste and questionable spending on several CUNY campuses including Brooklyn College where past president, confirmed to be President Gould, spent over $60,000 on cleaning services and her retirement party, an Inspector General investigation revealed.
The report investigated spending of foundation funds, the college’s relationships with affiliated foundations, and “conflicts of interest.” According to the report, the lack of oversight isn’t only irresponsible but is harmful to students and faculty as it takes funds away from the campus. In order to serve the students better, the report recommends CUNY make “significant steps” to “immediately…strengthen the fiscal integrity and oversight of this system,” including implementing centralized policy and putting more restraint on CUNY-based foundations, private groups that raise money for the benefit of the college.
“Spending practices at the City University of New York have raised several clear and immediate concerns, including a glaring lack of transparency and the potential for waste and abuse,” Inspector General Leahy Scott said in a press release. “CUNY’s affiliated foundations are entrusted with approximately $1 billion and must ensure those funds are expended for the benefit of the school’s educational mission and its students. The goal of this interim report and my continuing investigation is to help restore the trust among the student body and taxpayers at large as to the integrity of this esteemed institute of higher education.”
The investigation began last month when William C. Thompson Jr., the chairman of CUNY’s Board of Trustees and the former New York City comptroller, requested it after the New York Times questioned expenses made by Lisa S. Coico, president of the City College of New York. Her unexpected resignation followed.
According to the preliminary report, the investigation found inappropriate spending at some of the senior colleges including City College, Queens and Brooklyn colleges, their corresponding foundations and the CUNY Research Foundation.
Brooklyn was mentioned three times for questionable spending including excessive spending on lobbying corporations, using approximately $36,000 per year out of the Presidential Discretionary Fund to pay for a part-time housekeeper for the college president and almost $35,000 for a retirement party for Brooklyn College’s former president. According to the report, “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.”
Though the president was not named in the report, a Brooklyn College spokesperson has confirmed the purchases were made by former President Karen Gould. Outside this confirmation, the college provided no comment on the spending.
The Presidential Discretionary Fund is a set of funds aggregated from sources outside of students’ fees and tax-levy appropriations. It is intended to be used “in support of educational, social, and cultural events and programs of the colleges, for hospitality extended to guests of the colleges, and attendance by members of the University community at receptions, dinners and other events outside of the college that are of significance to the college or University.” The mentioned expenses did not fit these requirements. According to the report, the amount Gould spent on her cleaning service would have been enough to provide full scholarships for up to six students annually, or provide other benefits to the academic programs of the college.
At this moment it is unclear if or how CUNY will implement change. In a statement, James B. Milliken, the chancellor of CUNY said, “I take the findings and recommendations of the inspector general very seriously, and will work with Chairperson Thompson, the Board of Trustees and the inspector general immediately to address the recommendations. CUNY must have in place the policies and practices that reflect and ensure the highest levels of integrity, accountability and transparency.”
CUNY did not respond to questions about plans or policy changes.