By SYLVIA WASSON
Sylvia Wasson is a professor of German at Santa Rosa Junior College. She is also a board member of the California Association of Scholars.
It has been said that academic arguments are so vicious because the stakes are so low.
The stakes were indeed low for a vocal group of SSU faculty members who, from their safe haven of tenure, have for months leveled allegations of financial impropriety against SSU’s Chief Financial Officer Larry Furukawa-Schlereth and his fellow Academic Foundation officials. With the no-confidence vote against Furukawa-Schlereth and SSU President Ruben Armiñana now tabled (as reported in The Press Democrat), a backward glance is in order — if for no other reason than to stress that reputations have been sullied and facts and evidence must be honored.
The importance of evidence and truth were voiced in a recent letter by six alumni to SSU’s Academic Senate. The signatories urge unity at a time of dwindling resources and caution that many of the accusations advanced in the now defunct resolution “are lacking evidence and are detrimental to the image of the campus as a whole.” This raises the question at the heart of this controversy: Do the allegations of financial mismanagement actually square with the facts?
For starters, there is one fact the public might be surprised to learn: Sonoma State University, with more than $29 million in endowment coffers, has the third largest endowment of the 23 CSU campuses, outranked only by San Diego State and San Luis Obispo. Does this sound like financial mismanagement? I think not.
However, lest this misguided no-confidence vote be revived at a future point, here are a few additional facts that simply don’t mesh with claims of a corrupt administration.
Take the assertion that the foundation’s poor investment decisions promoted an investigation by the state attorney general. The truth is that the attorney general has a duty to routinely monitor public benefit corporations on behalf of the citizenry to ensure that all charitable assets are properly administered. SSU was not singled out. Foundations at CSU Sacramento, Fresno State, CSU Stanislaus and San Diego State University were also selected for audit. In fact, the attorney general has requested information from every other campus foundation in the California State University system.
It is also surmised that the Clem Carinalli loan losses are likely to reach $1.8 million. The fact is that, to date, these loans have produced approximately $3.7 million in interest earnings for the foundation and its charitable remainder trust beneficiaries.
Another claim made is that the foundation endowment losses exceed those of its peer group. Not true. In January of this year the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the average return for college and university endowments in the fiscal year 2009 was a negative 18.7 percent, the worst since 1974. SSU showed a return of negative 22.7 percent. However, projected over five years, a more appropriate time measure, SSU performed similar to its peer group, 2 percent vs. 2.1 percent.
And what about the speculation that the Carinalli loans will create a sizeable loss for student scholarships and programs? The fact is that scholarships were fully funded in 2009-2010 and will again be fully funded in the academic year 2010-2011.
Finally, the charge that in 2008-2009 the foundation’s endowment primarily benefited “campus improvements” rather than campus programs and scholarships is inaccurate. About 70 percent of the foundation’s endowment distribution went to campus programs and 30 percent went to scholarships. That being said, many donors restrict funds for specific purposes — may it be to support the Green Music Center, buildings and grounds, academic programs, or scholarships. Foundations are obliged to honor these designations, regardless of their own or anyone else’s preference.
Does the SSU faculty have a right to be frustrated during these dire fiscal times? Absolutely, but with livelihoods and reputations on the line, calls for resignation coming from the safe realm of tenure against those who do not enjoy the luxury of ironclad job security had better be backed by solid evidence.
Academic integrity and plain decency demand no less.