Niagara Gazette

Columns

November 3, 2012

GLYNN: Ex-NU president under fire at St. John's

Niagara Gazette — That quip about a priest driving the Cadillac with the stained-glassed windows is not all that unrealistic, if you believe the story unraveling at St. John's University in New York City.

At the center of the controversy is Cecilia Chang, the disgraced former dean of the Institute of Asian Studies at St. John's. She has been on trial for allegedly embezzling from the university and forcing students on scholarship to work as her personal servants.

Embroiled in this high-profile campus scandal at the nation's largest Catholic university is the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., the president of St. John's. Harrington was president of Niagara University from 1984 until 1989 when he assumed the downstate post in Queens.

During the recent federal trial in New York City, Harrington testified that he had limited interaction with Chang — meeting with her two or three times a year — and he had indeed  addressed her handling of the university finances. The priest said he did accompany Chang and other St. John's staff members to Asia. He also told the court that they stayed at five-star hotels and received gifts from potential donors. 

Harrington said: "I wasn't real comfortable, being who I am" with the perks and only accepted them on Chang's recommendations. He was told it was important to stay at that hotel because it would impact on the image of St. John's as a first-class university. "I didn't fight that," he told the prosecutors.

Why was it  important that Harrington accept the gifts? "If you did not take them, it was a sign of a lack of respect," the priest said Chang told him. Apparently Chang's gift-giving was frequent, according to a report in the Torch, the award-winning St. John's campus newspaper.

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