By Clifford Michel
The New York State inspector general has sent an investigative team to the College of Staten Island to examine discretionary spending at The CSI Foundation, CSI’s primary fund-raising arm, according to an “interim report” released on November 15.
The report, which focused on not-for-profit foundations and alumni associations that raise money for CUNY campuses, found that the foundations “lack sufficient controls to ensure the integrity of their use of non-tax levy funds.” Almost every CUNY campus has a foundation and together they command about $1 billion in funds.
The inspector general’s interim report has revealed how CUNY’s lack of oversight on discretionary funds has already led to abuse.
The report highlighted that Brooklyn College earmarks $36,000 from presidential discretionary funds for a housekeeper and used $35,000 for a retirement party. Queens College used $40,000 in discretionary funds to supplement the salary of the college’s President.
CSI is one of five senior colleges being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General. CUNY has 11 senior colleges in total.
The CUNY Board of Trustees chairperson, William C. Thompson Jr., requested on October 9 that the office conduct a “comprehensive investigation” of the relationship between CUNY campuses and their affiliated foundations.
Thompson’s request came after an investigation by The New York Times, which revealed that former City College President, Lisa S. Coico, used the college’s fund-raising arm to pay for “tens of thousands of dollars for housekeeping, furniture, seasonal fruits and organic maple-glazed nuts, among other items.”
After the Times presented officials with evidence suggested that the College tried to cover up the spending, Coico resigned.
BREAKING THE LAW?
The report scolded CUNY for hiring lawyers to handle internal investigation of fraud and abuse. CUNY is required by state law to report such abuses to the state’s Inspector General. The office found two instances where the University failed to report to the Inspector General.
Instead of reaching out to the state Inspector General, CUNY racked up a bill of more than $180,000 from a law firmed it retained from mid-July through September to examine Coico’s spending.
CUNY also excessively uses lobbying firms, the report stated. Despite having offices within CUNY to lobby state and city officials, CUNY has spent $1.6 million in lobbying since 2013. (CSI has also recently created the position of Vice President for Economic Development, Continuing Studies, and Government Relations, which is meant to bolster the College’s relationship with elected officials.)
Brooklyn College spent $39,000 in lobbying and Hunter College spent $90,000, with the only descriptor of any activities being: “ATTEMPTED TO SCHEDULE MEETING WITH DEPUTY MAYOR, GET STATUS OF MEETING WITH DEPUTY MAYOR.”
The Inspector General investigation noted that presidents at CNY senior colleges enjoy “numerous instances of generous personal benefits.”
This includes a housing allowance of somewhere between $60,000 and $90,000 as well as a car and driver.
Other CUNY executives may also gain the use of a car if the Chancellor allows it.
The report also noted that according to CUNY’s “Executive Compensation Plan,” the chancellor and college presidents can use non-tax levy funds for “business expenses” and stating that “appropriate documentation is required.”
But the report fails to define “business expenses” or “appropriate documentation.”
The interim report also took aim at Matthew Goldstein, CUNY’s former chancellor who currently gets paid $300,000. When Goldstein was set to step down in 2013, The Board of Trustees awarded him with the position of Chancellor Emeritus.
$200,000 of Goldstein’s salary comes from government funds and $100,000 comes from foundation funds.
The report criticized the compensation, citing that Goldstein’s responsibilities were vague at best.