Monday, April 15, 2013

St. John's University in Queens and scandals

This article from Crisis Magazine was interesting to me as a graduate of St. John's University:

Scandal at St. John’s University: Corruption, Apostasy, and Death

First, I did not know or forgot that Dr. Cecilia Chang, the former Dean of the Institute of Asian Studies and the Vice President for International Relations, had committed suicide.  I read all about her arrest and trial in the New York papers -

"The dean’s suicide occurred a day after testifying in her own defense in a trial for embezzling more than $1 million from the university, stealing $250,000 from a Saudi prince to organize academic conferences that never occurred, using university credit cards to cover gambling losses at Connecticut casinos, and using international students as her personal servants in her home in exchange for tuition grants."

The Crisis magazine article refers to another article published in New York magazine that claims Dr. Chang had lavished expensive gifts and travel to the University President Fr. Donald Harrington and his chief of staff Rob Wile.  The scandal of Dr. Chang, which was tabloid fodder in New York for awhile, also expose the wider scandals so familiar to us Catholics, as well as anyone who has been following the situation in higher education.  Again, from the Crisis article:  

"Beyond the cash gifts, Fishman reported that Chang also treated Fr. Harrington to expensive trips to Asia every year or two. She would book the St. John’s contingent including Harrington and his young chief of staff at the very best hotels—the Peninsula or the Regent, reserving the presidential suite for Harrington. Harrington said he “protested the luxury—I just wasn’t real comfortable being who I am and how I am dressed going out of hotel like that.”

Fishman reported that Chang also provided President Harrington with suits from Modestos Limited and Sam’s Tailor, two of Hong Kong’s best tailors. Rob Wile, who was described by Fishman as having “expensive tastes,” purchased three suits on one trip—$900 for one and two for $950. He also purchased three shirts for $375—all of it paid for by Chang, who then passed the expense for the vacations and the clothing on to the university. Chang also purchased expensive watches for the two. During a June, 2008 trip, Fr. Harrington chose an Omega platinum Case Gent’s watch. This, on top of the $5,000 Patek Philippe watch Chang had already bought for him. Wile received a stainless steel Rolex Submariner."

Of course, very high expenses and questionable charges are normal for Universities that take in millions in tuition, as well as federal and state grants.  With Catholic schools, there is the additional scandal of a priest and his business dealings:

"Fishman reported that Wile solicited—and received—a $100,000 loan from the former chairman of the St. John’s Board of Trustees, and an $80,000 loan from a contractor who did work for the university. Fishman also claims that Wile did not disclose these loans to university officials.

Fishman claims that Wile used the loan from the former board chairman to help fund a real estate venture he had engaged in with university president Fr. Harrington. In 2006, GRH Group LLC, a partnership of Wile and Fr. Harrington, bought a property in the Jersey shore town of Rumson. The home was torn down, rebuilt using the funds from the loan he received, and sold for a profit of $200,000. According to Fishman, the partnership was not disclosed.

"It is difficult for most of us to understand why Wile needed all of these loans. According to, in 2008, he was already making more than $360,000 a year. And, by 2010, Wile was the second highest paid individual at the university—with a salary of more than $500,000—second only to the basketball coach. According to St. John’s IRS reports in 2010—the last year Guidestar lists on its site—Wile earned a base salary of $325,960, a bonus of $25,000, as well as $150,000 in “other” compensation, deferred compensation of $7,000, and non-taxable benefits of $41,131 for a total yearly compensation package of $549,368. This salary reflected a raise of almost $200,000 over his compensation package of $362,638 in 2008."

In the 20 years since I graduated I have not given a dime to this University and reading this article makes me very glad I did not waste any money.  St. John's, like so many other 'Catholic' institutions needs to get its house in order and determine whether the Catholic faith is its true center and its guiding force.  If even some of the allegations in this article are true, then Fr. Harrington also has to determine if the Catholic faith is his guiding force or not.

Related:  the archives of the student newspaper The Torch involving Chang and Harrington

This Daily News article on Chang indicates she was a suspect in her husband's homicide

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