On Friday, October 7th, CCNY President Lisa S. Coico abruptly resigned her position at the City College of New York, effective immediately, after the New York Times contacted officials regarding her administration’s handling of around $150K of her personal expenses.
As we all face issues with the corporate mindset overthrowing and contaminating the methods by which colleges and universities are run, many opine (including me) that things would be better if administrators, especially presidents, were recruited from within academia rather than the corporate sector. Many of us are of the opinion that academicians would be more caring and honest if given the opportunity to oversee an institution of higher education. At least we used to think that … before Lisa Coico.
Coico attended CCNY. In fact, she was the first alum to serve as president in the college’s 140-year history. Before her appointment, she had an impressive history of research, specializing in microbiology and immunology, and teaching. In addition, she was an experienced admin, having served as the Cornell Medical College Associate Dean for two years then their Vice-Provost of External Affairs, Government Agencies and Professional Associations while directing the Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program. In 2004, she left Cornell to become the Dean of the New York State College of Human Ecology, a position she held until leaving to become Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Temple University.
In 2010, Coico accepted the position at City College, with the understanding that she would expand the school’s science program and continue the strong fundraising that had become the hallmark of predecessor Gregory H. Williams. She got a sweet deal – a base salary of $400K plus perks, including a $7.5K per month housing allowance. That’s pretty great, even by New York standards. Not long after she took the helm, however, criticism began over her handling of fiscal matters and her strained relationship with the faculty.
Coico had a strong partner to help manage fundraising, the 21st Century Foundation, a non-profit that was employed as the college’s main fundraising vehicle. Somewhere along the way, however, that relationship went in a wrong direction. According to the New York Times, the foundation paid for some of Coico’s personal expenses, including furniture, housekeeping expenses, even fancy fruit baskets.
The question being investigated is whether Coico’s expenses were accurately recorded and whether some had been misrepresented.On October 9th, CCNY said it’s seeking a “comprehensive investigation” by the state.
According to an email between two school officials, the college itemized $155K of her spending into three categories: “college,” “personal,” and “iffy.” She was asked to return $51K of funds received because she didn’t receive approval prior to moving to New York. She was asked to return an additional $20K that she used for the security deposit on a Larchmont apartment. And, she was told that the $50K in furniture she purchased with school money was, indeed, property of the school. Apparently, she didn’t return the $20k used for the deposit, even when her landlord returned it to her after she and her husband purchased a home in Westchester City in 2013. It’s alleged that a lawyer representing the college instructed Coico to return the money in question, but the school discovered that she hadn’t returned all of the funds despite her claim to the contrary.
Lisa Coico seems to fit the profile of the ideal college president with a strong academic background and, it appears, no corporate ties. So, what went wrong? Does money and power corrupt so quickly and thoroughly? Is the answer limiting the amount of time someone can spend in college administration or is that more incentive for admins to grab what profits they can before leaving their post? I don’t know about you, but I’m left scratching my head, wondering how something so right went so wrong.