21st Century Foundation Records Released

The City College community moves a step closer to finding answers about the college's misused funds. The City College community moves a step closer to finding answers about the college's misused funds.

BY Elihu Fleury

How This Relates to CCNY’s Recent Financial Scandal

City College administration released a report containing records from the 21st Century Foundation, the college’s main fundraising organization. The records listed employees who received money from the foundation as supplements to their taxable salary.

Interim President Vincent Boudreau announced the release of this information on January 24th, in a letter sent online to faculty members.

Why Does This Matter?

The 21st Century Foundation and CUNY Research Foundation are two organizations involved in the CCNY financial scandal. According to the New York Times, Ms. Coico used foundation monies on fruit baskets, housekeeping services, rugs, and other items. This resulted in the depletion of 21st Century Foundation funds, from $600,000 down to $76.

It didn’t take long for questions of impropriety to come about. News of the CUNY Research Foundation reimbursing the 21st Century Foundation with $150,000 only bolstered current claims of dishonesty. The CUNY Research Foundation reserves its money solely for its namesake cause.

As a result of these developments and the evasiveness of administrators, there are ongoing investigations into the foundation by the federal government, New York State, and CUNY.

How Did This Happen?

On October 26th, 2016, Electrical Engineering Professor Jamal Manassah filed a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request for foundation figures. Instead of releasing the records to Prof. Manassah only, Pres. Boudreau decided to make the information public. This is part of a continuing initiative to, as Pres. Boudreau said in his letter, “be as transparent as possible regarding the finances of the campus.”For his part, Prof. Manassah is quite satisfied with Pres. Boudreau’s response. “I am very pleased with the transparency practices that President Boudreau has committed his administration to adopt,” he expressed. “It is a welcome change from the secretive practices of the past.”

What Does the Report Contain?

According to Pres. Boudreau’s letter, the report lists faculty members, individuals and firms acting as consultants, subcontractors, and other parties who received money from the foundation for any reason. The report also lists furniture and equipment purchases done with foundation monies as well as the amount of money taken from the foundation for each party. The letter noted that those listed as “consultants” might include performers of relatively minuscule tasks, such as “a photographer to take pictures at an event, or a company to provide sound at graduation.” Data was sourced from the archives of the administration’s finance division. Disbursement records and finance records were used to compile this information. As such, Pres. Boudreau admitted that some of these records are “in need of review and repair.” Thus, even with efforts to make the report as accurate as possible, some errors may still exist. Because of this, this may be the first version of this report. Pres. Boudreau said the administration “will continue to update and correct these records.”

Who Is On This Report?

In an age of shrinking government aid, the letter noted that “philanthropic resources… are an increasingly important resource” for CCNY, as it is throughout U.S. higher education. “Honors programs, student scholarships, lectures and public events — and even graduation expenses” come from foundation funds. Foundation monies are also used to obtain and keep “talent” (which apparently refers to faculty and administrators), and augment labor for special projects.

As such, as listed in the letter, parties named in the report generally fall under the following categories:

  • Someone whose salary was supplemented with foundation money for whatever reason.
  • Anyone who received summer salary which was “paid for by philanthropic resources.”
  • Individuals who are Research Foundation employees (those with salary lines funded by grants or philanthropy). This is so even if they only teach one adjunct class; foundation money is their main source of income.
  • People paid for momentary projects (for example, the transition from eSIMS to CUNYFirst in 2014).
  • People whose salary was not adequately covered by the tax levy budget, in which foundation money filled in the gaps.
  • Professors earning income as endowed chairmen and chairwomen.
  • Newly hired faculty whose beginning packages were covered with foundation money.
  • Students who worked college events like graduation — whose names are blacked out because they are protected under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).

Pres. Boudreau stressed the following point: one’s appearance on this report doesn’t necessarily indict them for improper use of funds, nor does the appearance of expenses here necessarily mean that they were improper. According to his letter, the report is only a factual accounting of who took how much. The report does not show whether a transaction was ethical or legal. To drive that point home, Pres. Boudreau mentioned that he is also on that report, because of his salary while serving as dean of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. Pres. Boudreau’s letter mentions that each transaction is being evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Thus, he warned that if certain transactions appear improper, “we won’t shy away from addressing them.”

How Does This Affect What We Know About the Financial Scandal?

For the first time, we now have some records that can relate to the financial scandal. We also have more insight on who took how much and when. This might prove valuable in future developments of the scandal. We also know that the current administration seems willing to expose what’s uncovered. How far that goodwill will stretch, and how much cooperation they will get elsewhere in CCNY, remains to be seen.

What Do We Still Not Know?

While this release does gain useful information, the following concerns still remain unanswered:

  • Which exact transactions were un-kosher?
  • Which expenses relate to Fmr. Pres. Coico’s improper use of funds?
  • Exactly how long said impropriety lasted?
  • Who else besides Fmr. Pres. Coico misused funds?
  • How such impropriety could go unnoticed for so long?
  • Who knew about the impropriety?

As the report is examined, the answers to these concerns might become clearer.

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