Harrington’s Actions Show Lack of Caring

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I don’t think Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. President of the University saw me as he left Newman Hall at precisely 4:45 p.m. Monday afternoon. I happened to be passing by when he walked out, strolled to the line of cars parked across the street and climbed into a late-model Audi before zooming off.

Even if he had noticed me, and if he had recognized me, I wonder if he would have cared. I wonder if he grasps the hypocrisy – a priest, who has taken a so-called “vow of poverty,” driving a car that likely cost north of $40,000. I wonder what he thinks about when he reads about Pope Francis, and how as a cardinal he used to take the bus, like poor people actually do.

And on a different, but related, note, I wonder if he realizes just how problematic his relationship with Cecilia Chang was, and the collateral damage that came from accepting the perks she offered without bothering to question where they came from.

It’s gotten lost in this whole sordid scandal, but what caught the attention of media outlets across the nation when she was first arrested in 2010 was not the amount of money she took from the school, or her relationship with Harrington or his chief of staff Rob Wile. No, what caught the eyes of ABC

News and the Huffington Post, among others, was that Chang was enslaving students. As Dean of Asian Studies, she had the power to award scholarships to students, who mostly came from Asia, in exchange for work study positions. “Work study” to those students came to mean doing

Chang’s laundry, cooking dinner for her son and picking her up if she was in a bind after one of her notorious gambling benders.

These students’ college experiences were ruined by Chang even as she lavished Harrington and Wile with all of the watches, suits, vacation trips and expensive wine we’ve talked about ad nauseam all semester. While Chang’s fudged expense reports were rubber stamped by Wile, these students slaved away on her orders.

It seems clear that Harrington thinks he’s been misrepresented in this whole regard, that media outlets like the Torch and New York Magazine have taken things out of context, and that his continued trust in Chang despite obvious red flags was a sign of naïveté, not institutional corruption.

Whatever he thinks, his lack of control over one of his subordinates resulted in years of misery for some of his students. Harrington profited from Chang’s thievery, no doubt, but that’s not the only reason why he is unfit to remain as St. John’s president. He’s unfit because he put his own selfish desires over the well-being of his students, and it ended up with some of his students getting hurt. He didn’t intend for those students to be abused by Chang. But they were because he refused – for whatever reason – to stand up to her. He allowed Chang to play by her own rules, and she left a trail of destruction for which he is ultimately responsible.

If he understood that, he wouldn’t have been so defiant when we interviewed him in December. If he understood that, he wouldn’t have reportedly threatened to go after us when we published a factually accurate editorial that cast him in a negative light. If he understood that, he would have already resigned.

Instead, he’s trying to wait it out. It might work. He knows how to network, and how to get people on his side. The Board of Trustees is full of people that have obvious and deep ties with him.

Harrington’s proven to be willing to put himself ahead of the school over which he presides. When the outside counsel reports its findings to the Trustees, we’ll see if they do the same.