Though President Lisa Coico insists everything is fine, news of financial improprieties continue to hang over the campus by Ashley Kalstek
Picture this: In the past year, your university battled budget cuts, cramped classes, de-funding and tuition hikes. Morale continually declines. Then you find out through the New York Times, one of the most reputable news outlets in the world, that the president of your school is being investigated for draining donated funds earmarked for Humanities and the Arts on your struggling campus (worse, your division) for personal expenses.
This is reality for the students and professors of City College in the Humanities & Arts division, the largest at the college. The 21st Century Fund that held the donation of $500,000 by Martin and Toni Sosnoff and over $600,000 total at the end of June now contains no more than $76.
The Suspect: President Lisa Coico
On top of that, the day before, the NY Post released an article stating that Coico withdrew money from the CCNY-based 21st Century Fund, one of the college’s largest sources of donations. According to the story, in 2010-2011 she bought $65,000 worth of furniture, $20,000 on a security deposit for a home, and $51,000 in miscellaneous expenses that were never approved by personnel of City College. All of this piled on a six-figure salary.
Here’s how it went down.
The Personnel and Budget Committee of the Division of Humanities and Arts wrote to Martin Cohen, chair of the 21st Century Fund on July 31st demanding answers. This letter raised “ethical and practical questions of profound seriousness.” Soon after, Leslie Skyba, Director of Advancement for the fund, announced her resignation.
After the letter failed to receive a prompt response, the Committee reached out to CUNY’s Chancellor James Milliken with the request to “conduct a formal investigation into the serious matter.” This document, sent on August 9th, included signatures from 15 chairpersons across the Humanities and Arts department.
The Times article, released, ironically on the first day of the City College fall semester, received extreme backlash from the CCNY community. “This isn’t the first time, and I doubt this will be the last time,” said Mitchell Levin, a H & A senior, who finds it embarrassing that family and friends are questioning him about the stories. “ I’m finding it hard to believe she’s in charge and I’m sick of having this be the biggest publicity City is getting.”
President Coico has responded with a series of upbeat emails. “I am very confident this process will show that there has been no inappropriate use of college or foundation funds,” she wrote in a recent email distributed to CCNY faculty, staff and students. “The primary mission of the [21st Century] foundation is to support the college as well as its faculty, students and programs to ensure their continued success.”
Yesterday, in another email to students and faculty, she addressed the Sosnoff business head on, noting that a report found that she had been exonerated. “It reaffirms what I have been communicating all along,” she said. “There has been no inappropriate use of the Sosnoff Fund and that funds were used in accordance with the donor’s wishes and full support.”
Judge Michael Gregorek, who has been an adjunct at City College for 15 years teaching classes covering morals and ethics, believes it’s time to move on. “If she says it was used in accordance with the wishes of the donor, then there is no story unless that is untrue,” he explains. “It was not anyone else’s money, so unless the donor is upset, then everyone else has to ask themselves whether they are resisting hyenas or acting as vultures themselves.”
Still, Judge Gregorek couldn’t help adding that this kind of scandal shouldn’t come as a complete shock. After all, the college hired Eliot Spitzer to teach shortly after he had been forced to resign as governor of New York in the wake of a prostitution sting. “For fifteen years, the University has hired disgraced politicians and questionable celebrities to serve as professors on terms unseen by loyal faculty.”