Saturday, September 21, 2013

More administrative corruption


Administrative Corruption, Part 2


 

     Last time around I discussed the extensive fraud of Dean Chang, who used scholarships as a means of acquiring personal servants. With so many acts of corruption briefly mentioned in Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty, it’s hard to choose, so I had to think what I wanted to show.

     As I mentioned before, there is little oversight at the administrative level; at best, the board of trustees is all there is; an average trustee spends a little over an hour a week overlooking the institution (good lord I wish I had that job…). With so little energy for honoring that trust, it’s no surprise that university presidents, the top of the heap, are cornucopia of opportunity for tales of corruption.

     I want to avoid such an easy target; any American who follows politics knows the guy at the top is probably a huge crook. I’ll look instead at what should have been a run-of-the-mill embezzlement case at Tufts university:

     An anonymous call triggered an investigation at the Office of Student Activities at Tufts, where supposedly some money had gone missing. It seems the Director, Nealley, had apparently lifted hundreds of thousands for her own benefit, using a thought-defunct part of Tufts as a cover for the money— larger, older institutions have hundreds of departments with names far more inscrutable than “Office of Student Activities” (each with administrators doing inscrutable administrative things), so nobody caught on to her thefts, which, as usual, went on for years, and she probably never would have been caught but for that phone call. Money was stolen from Tufts Community Union and Tufts Student Resources as well…seriously, every institution of any size is like this in terms of little fiefdoms.

 

Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman had no comment on how Nealley could have had access to the TLS account after it was thought to be closed.

 

--No comment, indeed. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, and nobody noticed? It doesn’t work that way.

 

     Unfortunately that phone call triggered an investigation that caught the person who made the tip…another administrator in that Office of Student Activities. He’d taken about $600,000 himself, again from a variety of sources, and again administrators at the University are very, very, vague on how exactly he had access to that money in the first place, much less was able to funnel it, over the course of years, to himself.

     I want to take the time to point out here, that when I want money from my institution, even for a tank of gas spent on institutional business, I need to fill out a form. That form needs to be reviewed. Then that form needs to be approved before the check is written. Then the check has to be approved. Then I get the money. Past my paycheck (only signed off by at least three administrators) I can’t get $50 extra out of my institution without at least FOUR different administrators signing off on it. But Tufts somehow managed to lose track of nearly a million dollars in one department, and nobody is sure how that happened. Hmm.

     Anyway, both administrators pled guilty, serving 2 years of jail time and 5 years probation.

     While this story may seem completely different than the tale of Miss Chang and her “personal servant scholarships,” I feel the need to point out important similarities.

      First is the notion of the administrative fiefdom. The massive growth in administrative positions in higher education has led to the creation of swarms of busybodies, each looking to create turf worth defending. There really are so many splinter “Departments of Student Assistance” of one form or another, each with its own legion of support staff, that there could be dozens of departments with embezzlers in them and it wouldn’t surprise me. Note what happened here—there were TWO embezzlers operating separate schemes just in this one department; one reported on the other, presumably not believing his own thievery would be caught.

     Another important theme complementing this corruption is deafening in its lack of discussion in the news articles: much like with Dean Chang, there is simply no way, no way at all this could have gone on without numerous other administrators being involved. In this case, I imagine there were quite a few envelopes stuffed with $100 bills passed around, to ease the process of hundreds of thousands of dollars simply vanishing into this department.

     I again point out these administrators were making salary numbers several multiples of faculty. Do students really go to Tufts because of the Office of Student Activities there? Do the skills of the administrators attract students? I humbly submit “no”. The purpose of institutions of higher education is research and education…faculty, those that are integral to research and education, must grovel for $50 to cover travel expenses, while administrators get hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend protecting fiefdoms….or for personal benefit, provided they don’t get caught.

    Most institutions of higher education are a Byzantine morass controlled by a caste of rulers that aren’t even vaguely aware that these institutions are about research and education. Many of these institutions are constantly short on funds, and use this shortage to justify cutting expenditures on teaching and research, and raising tuition. I’ve only given a few examples of how corrupted the system is. More will follow. How many will be necessary for the reader to believe that the financial troubles in higher education probably have more to do with mismanagement than with money spent on faculty or tuition being too low?


    

 

Think about it.