Dear Commons Community,
A City University of New York investigation has exonerated Lisa Coico, president of City College, of accusations that she improperly spent some $600,000 from an arts endowment on adjunct professors’ salaries. As reported by The New York Times:
“The president of the City College of New York did not overstep her authority when she used more than $600,000 from a fund traditionally earmarked for arts programming to pay adjunct salaries, an internal review has found.
The review had been requested by senior faculty members at the college who learned in July that an account that should have contained more than $600,000 had only $76.
After seeking an explanation from college officials but encountering resistance, the faculty members appealed to James B. Milliken, chancellor of the college’s parent body, the City University of New York. Mr. Milliken then asked Frederick P. Schaffer, the university’s general counsel and senior vice chancellor for legal affairs, to investigate.
The account in question — the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Fund for the Arts — is part of the holdings of the City College 21st Century Foundation, the school’s chief fund-raising arm. The finances of that foundation, as well as those of the City College’s president, Lisa S. Coico, and her family, and CUNY’s Research Foundation, are also being investigated by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.
In a five-page report released on Wednesday and that focused on the Sosnoff Fund, Mr. Schaffer said that Ms. Coico’s decision to use money “for adjunct salaries in connection with arts programs was clearly consistent with the purpose of the gifts and was within her authority under its terms.”
Mr. Schaffer noted, “It is understandable that some faculty and even administrators were disappointed in this shift and raised questions as to its wisdom and appropriateness.”
The Sosnoffs, longtime arts philanthropists who built their fortune in money management, pledged $1 million in September 2011 “to be used for the arts at City College as determined by the president.” In June 2015, they pledged another $2 million over the next four years, with the first installment to be deposited in June 2016.
Before this year, the college had spent the money on educational programs, artistic performances and exhibitions. But in 2015-2016 the college faced a deep budget cut of 10 percent.
During the academic year, the division’s top officials were told that if the budget gap was not closed, the college would need to tap into the Sosnoff Fund “to pay for some teaching costs,” Mr. Schaffer wrote. In mid-July, the acting dean, Doris Cintron, discovered that the fund had been depleted.
The money, it turns out, had been used to cover adjuncts’ salaries for the fall and spring semesters. Adjuncts must be on the New York State payroll and had already been paid. The college then used the Sosnoffs’ latest donation to reimburse the state by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
In a letter to City College, Ms. Coico welcomed the findings. “It reaffirms what I have been communicating all along,” she wrote. “There has been no inappropriate use of the Sosnoff Fund.”
The report came one day before the first meeting of the school year of the Faculty Senate, which has been critical, at times, of Ms. Coico’s leadership. Before the meeting, speculation abounded that there would be a no-confidence vote, but that did not materialize.”