Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania (PRWEB) May 08, 2014
In his recent book, “Privatization Without a Plan,” Angelo Armenti, Jr. notes¹ that Merriam-Webster defines “conflict of interest” as “a conflict between the private interests and official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.” According to the book, it is clear that a conflict exists whether or not decisions made by such persons are affected by a personal interest. Such conflicts should be avoided because their very existence signals a potential if not a likelihood for mischief, together with the possible subsequent loss of public confidence in the affected organization and its leaders.
A dictionary definition is one a citizen might use to form an opinion regarding a potential conflict of interest situation. But others may—and sometimes do—choose other definitions for other reasons.
Depending on those choices, conflicts of interest—or other presumably objectionable behaviors—may be defined in ways that limit the type and number of situations that actually meet a limited definition of prohibited behavior. E.g., the Pennsylvania ‘Public Official and Employee Ethics Act’ prohibits “conflicts of interest” but defines them² in a way that leaves out behaviors that the dictionary definition includes.
Three Inherent Conflicts of Interest in “Government” Higher Education
1) The 100% political leadership of PASSHE competes against the very Universities they have a fiduciary responsibility to serve. As the universities continue to be privatized, one of the greatest obstacles to delivering the statutory purpose of Act 188, “high quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students,” is a lack of private scholarships for financially needy PASSHE students. Despite these universities already being 75% private—financially speaking—the members of their Councils of Trustees and the PASSHE Board of Governors are not typically known to be major philanthropists, as far as donating to student scholarships at these universities is concerned. Rather, they are much more likely to have gained their appointments through the “political process,” that is, by making donations to and/or otherwise supporting the political campaigns of the elected officials who control the appointment process. It is in this sense that the 100% political leadership of PASSHE competes against the very universities they have a fiduciary responsibility to serve.
2) The oath of office³ taken by the 100% political leadership of PASSHE makes no mention of fidelity to the mandates of Act 188, much less to the best interests of students, parents and private donors, primarily alumni—who now provide 75% of the cost of education at the 14 PASSHE universities but control 0% of the governance seats on the Board of Governors and the Councils of Trustees.
On the other hand, the State, in the person of its elected and appointed officials, provides 25% of the funding and yet controls 100% of PASSHE’s governance seats.
That the 100% political leadership of PASSHE takes control of the money—the 75% of PASSHE’s budget—that comes from the private checkbooks of students, parents and alumni donors, and then makes 100% of the decisions about how to spend their money, is a major conflict of interest for the reason that the majority (75%) financial stakeholders currently have zero voice in the matter, while the minority (25%) financial stakeholder has 100% voice and therefore makes all the key decisions.
3) The lack of independent legal counsel, according to Armenti, has saddled the PASSHE universities with a “legal opinion” that defies logic, civility and common sense. The opinion, which manifests itself in PASSHE Board of Governors Policy 2012-01 - A: Expenditures of Public Funds⁴ includes these words: “All university funds are public monies,…” The notion that the $1 billion in funds that come annually from the private checkbooks of the majority (75%) stakeholders magically become “public monies” the instant their checks get deposited in university bank accounts is preposterous. By such tortured logic, might not a thief argue that his ill-gotten gains suddenly became legally his once deposited into his bank account? The legal opinion that attempts to justify this triumph of chutzpah over common sense brings to mind an appropriate rejoinder from the Charles Dickens’ character, Mr. Bumble, in Oliver Twist, who said: “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass—a idiot.”
The Role of PASCU
PASCU’s mission is “To ensure that the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania as specified by Act 188 of 1982: ‘High quality education at the lowest possible cost to the students,’ is indefinitely preserved and faithfully delivered.” To advance that mission, PASCU seeks to reform the governance of PASSHE so as to enable it achieve its statutory purpose as mandated by Act 188.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Angelo Armenti Jr. served as President of California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) from 1992 to 2012. Before that, he was a Dean at Villanova University, a professor of physics, and author of The Physics of Sports (American Institute of Physics, 1992). During his career at Cal U, Armenti is credited with establishing numerous funding sources for student scholarships and for campus revitalization projects, efforts made in part to address the problems that he describes in Privatization Without a Plan. In June of 2012, Armenti founded a non-profit corporation entitled The Pennsylvania Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU) whose mission it is to preserve the statutory purpose of public higher education in Pennsylvania. He also writes for his blog at http://angeloarmenti.blogspot.com/.