Students upset with misuse of tuition
Students have been up in arms recently about reports of Robert Wile, chief of staff to Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of the University, receiving $350,000 in reportedly interest-free loans during his tenure at St. John’s.
Wile received a $100,000 interest-free loan in 2006 and another in 2008 for $250,000, according to the New York Magazine report. The University’s tax returns from 2010, the last year publicly available, show that Wile has paid back $100,000 of the total amount loaned to him. Wile has been given those loans in addition to his total salary of more than $500,000, which was second among current employees only to men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin, according to tax returns.
The Torch has learned that those loans came from the University’s general fund, which includes students’ tuition. A University spokesperson declined to comment about that, citing the ongoing investigation by an attorney retained by the Board of Trustees.
“I definitely think that’s unfair,” Mayra Mavarez, a junior, said. “My parents are busting their butts for me to go here and that’s not cool.”
University students contacted by the Torch said they are outraged about the use of their tuition dollars to benefit an employee, not the university.
“It makes me very angry,” Jordan Carr, a sophomore, said. “I expect my tuition to go to things like better technology or to professors.”
Many students thought the review by white-collar attorney Frank Wohl would lead to Harrington resigning.
“It’s terrible that someone is abusing the system and now all the students have to suffer,” Mike DeBenedetto, a sophomore, said.
“We should get reimbursed [for the money spent on the loans],” added Nadia Abreu, a sophomore. “He’s going to buy himself out of it.”
Students who wished to question Harrington about the ongoing scandal learned last week that the annual town hall meeting – scheduled to take place with the president present – was canceled, then postponed indefinitely.
The annual town hall meeting is held by Student Government, Inc. and the department of student affairs and gives students the opportunity to talk to high-level administrators in the University. Past town hall meetings have included the president, provost, deans of the colleges and representatives from other departments.
Elizabeth Reilly, director of media relations, said the meeting was “was postponed three weeks ago and is being rescheduled.”
Mark Benavides, the organizations committee chairman in charge of organizing the town hall, said via email that he did not know why the event was postponed or when the future town hall will be hosted.
“I feel as if he rescheduled the town hall meeting because he knows that he betrayed his staff and left them in the dark about the Chang incident,” sophomore Colby Mrowka said.
“By Fr. Harrington canceling the town hall meeting it sends a message that he can put the voices and opinions of his faculty and students on hold.”
Benavides said that although the event’s cancellation may be seen a negative decision, he believes Harrington hasn’t forgotten about the students’ grievances.
“I know that Fr. Harrington is honestly concerned with the student body and all the issues that we would bring up at the town hall,” Benavides said. “It is unfortunate that the town hall was canceled, because I know many students look forward to the one chance a year they get to address the concerns they have, directly to the president of the University.”
In an email to the University community last Friday, Harrington said he would like to answer questions about the allegations but “it is appropriate” for him to remain silent while the Board of Trustees reviews the situation.
Still, senior Calvin Sage said that the town hall should go on with or without the presence of Harrington. Regardless, the timing didn’t sit right with him.
“It does seem a little fishy that they rescheduled it around the same time that Fr. Harrington comes out and says he wants to keep quiet,” he said.
Students are especially upset that this year’s town hall has been canceled because of all the unanswered questions students have after recent reports.
“I love St. John’s but when I hear this kind of stuff I feel they should keep us more informed,” Catalina Pacheco, a senior, said. “They should let us know what they’re doing with our money. It’s disheartening.”
Stephen Ruskay, a senior, is worried about the reputation of the University in light of the reports.
“People aren’t going to want to attend [St. John’s] if they know that’s where their money is going,” he said. “It’s totally unacceptable.”
The vast majority of the students contacted by the Torch believe that Harrington should step down.
Carr said the allegations of misuse of funds that are alleged to have taken place under Harrington’s watch signals that “he doesn’t uphold the integrity of the office of president.”
Other students couldn’t even bring themselves to utter his name, such was their anger at what has emerged in recent reports.
“I have nothing to say about that man.” Mike Palmer, a junior, said.