In November, the Office of the Inspector General opened an investigation into fiscal management in the CUNY system.
William C. Thompson Jr., Chairperson of the CUNY Board of Trustees, requested that the New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott start this investigation after it was revealed there were discrepancies in spending at City College that lead to the resignation of their University President Lisa S. Coico on Oct. 7.
“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,” Scott said in a press release on Nov. 15.
The interim report examined spending within the CUNY system, finding additional discrepancies within the Presidential Discretionary Fund at certain colleges.
“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,” the Inspector General’s report stated.
The Chancellor of CUNY, James Milliken, supports the Board of Trustees’ decision to contact the Inspector General and launch this investigation.
“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,” Milliken said in a statement to the Knight News.
Milliken addressed the issues of the report and the concerns of the Board of Trustees and assured the university presidents that a resolution will be reached.
“Some responses to the IG’s recommendations involve matters of university governance, and we will work with our Board of Trustees on appropriate steps,” Milliken stated in a letter circulated to university presidents in the CUNY system.
Some discrepancies found in the report pertained to how university presidents decided to spend their Presidential Discretionary Fund.
Section 3.04 of CUNY’s manual details the policy on Presidential Discretionary Funds states that, “Discretionary funds may 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 report showed that Brooklyn College’s president hired a salaried housekeeper at $36,000 per year, provided by the fund from the Brooklyn College Foundation, for services in his home, which is owned by the college.
The Presidential Discretionary Fund also supported a retirement party for a former university president that cost about $35,000.
This report notes that these funds could have been used for student scholarship funds or other benefits to the academic programs of the colleges.
“CUNY’s policy regarding Presidential Discretionary Funds must include more stringent direction, detailed policies regarding allowable expenditures and the purpose for those expenditures,” the report states.
CUNY’s senior colleges have a nonprofit foundation affiliated with their campus to raise and provide funds for their colleges separate from what they receive in public funding.
QC’s nonprofit affiliate, the Queens College Foundation, was cited in the report along with Chancellor Milliken for providing a $40,000 salary bump to President Felix Matos-Rodriguez for the remainder of his contract with the university without the approval of CUNY’s Board of Trustees.
Due to CUNY by-laws, Chancellor Milliken’s motion to increase President Matos-Rodriguez’s salary without the consent of the Board of Trustees presents no wrongdoing.
President Matos-Rodriguez plans to fully cooperate with the investigation being held by the Inspector General.
“While this is an interim report, we at Queens College are, as always, committed to the highest levels of integrity, accountability and transparency,” Matos-Rodriguez said in a statement to the Knight News. “We will continue to cooperate fully with the IG to ensure that it receives all the information needed, and implement any recommended changes.”
Members of the CUNY community responded to the report with a call for action.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress—the union that represents CUNY faculty members—responded to the initial report condemning the inappropriate spending by the university system.
“Not a single penny should be wasted at CUNY, especially when the university has been starved of public funds for decades,” Bowen said in a statement to the Knight News. “Whatever steps are taken next must include a plan to restore CUNY to full public funding—otherwise it’s the students who will suffer.”