Turmoil at St John’s As President Fights Back

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After returning from a board of trustees meeting in Rome last week, St. John’s University President Father Donald Harrington appears to be fighting for his professional life. Privately, he went on the attack against new revelations of apparent corruption at the university, while publicly canceling meetings with an increasingly irate faculty.

Shortly after arriving in New York, Harrington summoned top university administrators, including deans and provosts, to an impromptu meeting in which he seemed angry and frustrated, and lashed out at recent reports of secret loans, undisclosed business ventures, and conflicts of interest. He called the reports “lies and mudslinging,” according to sources informed about the meeting. Harrington also threatened “to go after” the student newspaper, The Torch, after it published an editorial calling for him to address "the issue in the public eye or he should step down.” Harrington said he would call in the editors and demand a retraction; when told about his comments, Torch editors reacted defiantly, saying they would not retract the editorial. (A spokesman for the university said Father Harrington “did not intend to give the impression that he was being critical of the student editors of The Torch.”)

In public, Harrington chose not to address the issues. According to a Friday memo obtained by New York, Provost Robert Mangione wrote that Faculty Forums scheduled for March 12 and March 18 have been postponed indefinitely. Earlier in the day, Harrington had distributed an internal memorandum, saying that he would decline to comment while a board-mandated investigation was being completed by outside counsel Frank Wohl.

For the faculty, the scandal appeared to catalyze long-simmering grievances. “The hostility of the administration to questioning, and their indifference to faculty opinion, cannot — cannot — be overstated,” one faculty member said privately. But faculty have so far been timid, expressing fears of retaliation. “[Travel funding, research budgets, and course loads] are huge parts of our jobs, and we’re fearful that speaking up will result in the administration cutting back severely in these things in the future. This is a real possibility — not paranoia," said the faculty member. Sources inside the administration, however, reported that top university administrators are “shivering” at the possibility of faculty protests.

Meanwhile, the Twitterverse lit up on Friday after Pete Vecsey, a sportswriter for the Post, tweeted, “Big scandal about to rock St. John's. Nothing to do with sports, a valued source insists. Head will, er, has rolled.”

With additional reporting by Steve Fishman.

Correction: Provost Mangione was originally identified as a Dean.