Flames of the Torch: Time to Step Up

As the scandal involving Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of the University and his chief of staff, Rob Wile continues to unfold, the University community has started to speak up and make its frustrations heard. This community includes administrators, faculty and students alike, all of whom have heard enough about the questionable dealings between Harrington and Wile to know that the time has come for answers.

The only answer anybody has gotten thus far is an email from Harrington on Friday afternoon stating that because of the ongoing investigation by the board’s hired counsel, he couldn’t say anything, but that he really, really wanted to.

This is the time for the Board of Trustees to show that it cares about the well being of this University in both its internal senses and the perception from those outside its gates. Peter D’Angelo, the chair of the board, told the Torch that it is too early in the process to talk of Harrington’s resignation (as had been speculated in Internet circles), which is understandable, if also frustrating. The board wouldn’t be doing its job if it weren’t looking at everything available to them.

Its job, in this case, is to represent what’s best for the University, not what’s best for Harrington. Many on the board have obvious ties to Harrington, and it will be interesting to see how that will affect their judgment when it comes time to make a decision on whether he has a future at St. John’s. Given some of those ties, the importance of transparency in their decision-making process is paramount.

This is the time for the board to show that they are willing to act independently and strongly in order to ensure the school has the best leadership going forward. Here’s our challenge: whatever decision is made after the investigation, be thorough, be precise and be open with us about the steps you took and why the decision you made will be best for the University – not your wallets.

Outside of the board, what’s struck us the most as we’ve reported on this issue is the lack of support Harrington has throughout the University, from the top down. We’ve talked to everybody from freshmen to senior administrators, and there is a remarkable consensus when it comes to Harrington and Wile. We believed going into this that most people at St. John’s are fundamentally decent people, and are appalled by what many perceive to be institutional corruption coming from the office of the president. What’s surprising us is how strongly the entire University community has spoken with one collective voice.

That voice has spoken out against the high life Wile was living on St. John’s dime. That voice has spoken out, calling for better explanations for the thousands of dollars in expenses charged by Wile on lavish restaurants and designer retailers in the United States and abroad.

That voice has spoken up for the little guy – precisely what Harrington should have been doing, and precisely what the board must do. It’s questioning where the big money is coming from and where it could have been better served.
Now, that voice needs to get louder. That voice needs to demand more from Harrington and from the Board of Trustees. It needs to see real leadership at this school.

A common thought of the St. John’s community is that the student body, and even some of the faculty, is apathetic to the school. While this can certainly be said for some groups, we’ve been heartened to find that this is not necessarily the case.
Many students are not only aware of the situation at Newman Hall, but also actively looking for more information no small task during midterm season.

Faculty, especially tenured professors, need to lead this charge. It is unacceptable that there are people at this school who still do not know about this situation. Regardless of how you feel about it, this is something that everyone in this community should know and understand. Professors should be discussing it openly in their classes, with students, in order to foster a more open and welcoming environment for students to discuss current issues. If students don’t feel comfortable speaking out to professors, how can they be expected to speak out to administrators?

Outside of the classroom, both student and faculty leaders have a responsibility to put their names and faces on this issue. Without pressure from all aspects of the STJ community, this has the potential to be swept under the supposedly, ever-growing rug.

After our editorial last week, Harrington reportedly called what’s been written about him lies and mudslinging. A University spokesperson said that Harrington was “troubled” by some of our comments, without specifying what troubled him.

We invite Harrington, or anybody speaking for him for that matter, to outline exactly what was troubling, and exactly what caused him to resolve to go after us, as New York Magazine said he did. We welcome a real, open conversation where we can each share comments and concerns.

As we said last week, it’s time for a “step up.” If Harrington isn’t going to be the one to do so, it must be the board. It is abundantly clear that the rest of the University is looking for answers, not just because they want to know where their money is going, but also because they believe in the good of the school. However, that faith can vanish rather quickly if those in high places put friends and money ahead of truth and the people they supposedly serve.