Adelphi Recovers “The Long View”

A.S. Zaidi

IN 1985, PETER Diamandopoulos became Adelphi University’s seventh president, ushering in an entire decade of “shock therapy” for the small commuter school on Long Island.  Opposition to Diamandopoulos grew when it was disclosed that Diamandopoulos was the second highest paid university president in the United States.  Adelphi had purchased a $1.2 million Manhattan condominium for his use at a time when it was shedding employees and course offerings.

The Committee to Save Adelphi (CSA), an advocacy group of faculty, students and alumni, held its first press conference in October 1995.  Around that time, the faculty voted 131-14 for Diamandopoulos to resign.  After a New York Times editorial called for an investigation into Adelphi’s finances, the New York State Attorney General began to look into the perks of President Diamandopoulos and into the awarding of contracts at Adelphi.

The Adelphi administration filed suit to halt the investigation, claiming that New York’s “business judgment rule” barred judicial inquiry into good-faith actions of corporate directors.  The administration claimed that the attorney general had no jurisdiction over Adelphi, that his “witchhunt” threatened the independence of private educational institutions in New York, and that the attorney general’s office had deliberately leaked to the media details of the purchase agreement of Diamandopoulos’ apartment.  (Carvajal, 1996)

Diamandopoulos’ salary would remain at the center of the Adelphi controversy.  His first year salary of $95,000 in 1985-86 rose to $145,000 the following year, well above the average compensation for presidents at comparable universities.  By the 1995-96 academic year, Diamandopoulos’ total compensation had soared to $837,000.  Between 1988 and 1994, Diamandopoulos refused to disclose his salary to the IRS, preferring to pay $11,850 in fines.  He later explained that the secrecy was meant to strengthen his hand with the faculty union.

Adelphi also provided Diamandopoulos with a severance contract worth $3 million, country club membership, first class trips to France, England, Switzerland, and Greece, and the use of a $82,000 Mercedes.  It reimbursed him for a $1,000 contribution to Phil Gramm’s 1992 presidential campaign, the premiums on his personal art collection, expensive dinners with fellow trustees John Silber and Hilton Kramer, which included $150 glasses of cognac, and thousands of dollars in tips to the Manhattan apartment building staff.

Adelphi gave Diamandopoulos the option of buying the Manhattan apartment for $300,000 less than its purchase price, and furnished it with wall-washer lighting, electrified snow melting grids on the terrace, and $1,800 in bathroom accessories.

The trustees also enjoyed the good life. In 1994, they made an expenses-paid trip to Greece.  Diamandopoulos claimed that the trip helped the trustees “think about the connection between democracy and education.” (Carvajal, 1995)

Diamandopoulos, himself an Adelphi trustee, brought business executives and right-wing ideologues to the board.  They, in turn, adhered to the corporate model of university governance that Diamandopoulos admired.  In an October ’92 letter to Donald Koster, Professor Emeritus of English, Diamandopoulos wrote:

The University is neither a polity nor a convenient umbrella for a collective of autonomous professionals.  The University is a corporation legally and a hierarchy in terms of leadership, educational responsibility, and authority.

In a letter to the New York Times, anthropology professor Norman Ashcraft expressed the disenchantment of the faculty with this model of university governance:

Some people think of a university as a corporation with a strict hierarchical structure.  Power passes from a board of trustees through a chief executive officer and then assistants, provosts and deans, down to employees (faculty), who serve solely to carry out the management’s vision.  The more we favor this model, the more we release responsibility for education to managers.  Teaching and scholarly pursuits are valued less than managing funds, people and curriculum .  .  .

If other institutions pick up on these developments, education will be reduced to a pedestrian activity and the university will become a place where mandates are issued from a self-ordained cadre of managers.  (Ashcraft.  1996)

The presence of former Secretary of the Treasury William Simon as honorary trustee underscored the extent of Adelphi’s corporate reorientation.  Simon had personally amassed hundreds of millions of dollars by financing hostile takeovers with junk bonds and then asset-stripping the companies.  He also attracted negative publicity from his involvement in a pyramid scheme.  (Knecht, 1995)

Simon currently heads the John F. Olin Foundation, which was created by a munitions manufacturer in 1953 to awaken “business and the public .  .  .  to the creeping stranglehold that socialism has gained” in the United States.  (Sirica, 1996) The foundation undertook a new mission when Simon became its president in 1977, as he declared in his bestseller, A Time for Truth:

Foundations imbued with the philosophy of freedom .  .  .  must take pains to funnel desperately needed funds to scholars, social scientists, writers and journalists who understand the relationship between political and economic liberty .  .  .  This philanthropy must not capitulate to soft-minded pleas for the support of “dissent.” Indeed, it is the economics and the philosophy of capitalism which represent “dissent”—dissent from a dominant socialist-statist-collectivist orthodoxy which prevails in much of the media, in most of our large universities, among many of our politicians and, tragically, among not a few of our top business executives.  (Simon, 1978)

In 1995, Olin gave over $16 million to university think tanks, institutes, publications and fellowships.  It finances programs at prestigious law schools, including those of Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, George Mason, Stanford, Berkeley, Toronto and the University of Chicago.  Olin seeks to transform public policy by diminishing the regulatory role of government, in effect leaving the environment, consumer protection, and workplace safety to the mercy of “the magic of the market.”

The Price of Privileged Professors

Between 1992 and 1996, Olin funded ten visiting professorships at Adelphi, creating a class of privileged faculty.  The Olin scholars, who earned about $100,000 a year, about twice the average Adelphi professor’s salary, included Carnes Lord, a former national security advisor to Dan Quayle, Edith Kurzweil, editor of the Partisan Review, and Ronald Radosh, author of a revisionist history of the Rosenbergs.  Among the “scholars in residence,” without teaching duties, were two right-wing former editors, Brad Miner of the National Review and Bruce Bawer of the New Criterion. Olin also funded a lecture series, which brought Simon, William Buckley Jr. and Irving Kristol to Adelphi.  (Eakin, 1995)

Diamandopoulos, in turn, gave Olin associates important positions at Adelphi, whose trustees included James Piereson, Olin executive director, and Hilton Kramer, publisher of New Criterion, which was initiated with a $100,000 Olin grant and whose offices were initially housed within Olin’s.  Mark Blitz, from the Olin-backed Hudson Institute, was named Adelphi’s acting provost.  (Eakin, 1995)

In Spring ’96, with the regents’ investigation approaching, Olin abruptly departed from Adelphi.  Simon and Piereson resigned as trustees, thus avoiding the public embarrassment that would befall the other Adelphi trustees.

Under Diamandopoulos, Adelphi’s students, like its faculty, were stratified into haves and have-nots.  Diamandopoulos created an Honors College, an elite institution within the institution, in which students were given twenty-four hour access to state-of-the-art computers, as well as generous financial assistance, including full scholarships.  At the same time, Diamandopoulos cut back financial aid and support services, impacting most heavily on minority students.

“I have heard that the President and his administration vow their commitment to intellect,” noted David Smith, a business major.  “One can’t help but wonder whose intellect they are committed to. As a black student on this campus, I can assure you it is not mine .  .  .  All the cuts in aid, the reduction of courses offered, and the president’s outrageous salary have shown me that the president is only committed to his pocket.” (Tollinchi, 1995)

At the same time, the administration lavished funds on projects of scant educational value.  When Adelphi hosted the Greek soccer team during the 1994 World Cup tournament, the administration spent $250,000 to construct a grandstand, goal posts, a press box, a public address system, and signs in Greek.  Students, meanwhile, were complaining about cuts in athletic scholarships.

As undergraduate enrollment under Diamandopoulos dropped from 4,049 in 1987 to 1,895 in 1997, course offerings were sharply reduced; many students had to spend an extra semester or year to earn their degrees.  When asked about the class reductions, Diamandopoulos replied:

There is a silly and melancholy perception on the part of students, which is exploited by fighting faculty, that the more courses you have, the better education you get. (Honan, 1997; Bazemore et al., 1995)

Services and Aid Gutted

Students were also upset over the phasing out of the New York State Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) at Adelphi.  HEOP provides counseling and financial aid to academically and financially disadvantaged students, those with SAT verbal scores below 600 and low family incomes—i.e.  $18,650 is the eligibility limit for a family of three.

Adelphi was supposed to guarantee university matching funds for state HEOP awards.  Instead, the university demanded that HEOP students take out loans with Diamandopoulos attacking HEOP as “charity.”

In response, student editor Marie Alzi noted that HEOP support services simply gave students the means to complete college.  (Alzi, 1996) The HEOP cuts led many to conclude that Adelphi was simply casting off minority students.

On August 23, 1995, a terse notice appeared on the bulletin board outside Adelphi’s student radio station: “WBAU-FM has ceased broadcasting.” The night before, the administration had changed the locks to the entrance of WBAU, having sold the station to Nassau Community College for $30,000—a fraction of its actual value—without any bids.

The student government association, which funded WBAU, had not been consulted.  About half of the station’s programming had been Black-oriented.  WBAU, Dean Carl Rheins explained, was “at variance with the university’s academic mission and philosophy.” (Parker, 1996)

At a March ’96 forum, Diamandopoulos finally addressed student concerns, which included the phasing out of HEOP, the closing of WBAU, the lack of fundraising to augment the meager $9 million endowment, the elimination of academic programs, including Italian and M. A. English, and the dwindling library acquisitions (down to 20% of what they had been prior to Diamandopoulos’ arrival).

He dismissed those concerns, saying “I have very strong views about what you need. I dont need to know what you think you need.” Diamandopoulos also refused to consider the inclusion of a student on Adelphis trustee board.  (McQuiston, 1996; Douglass and Watson, 1996)

Whom Can You Trust?

The Adelphi trustees did not inspire confidence.  There was Nicholas Samios, the director of the scandal-ridden Brookhaven National Laboratory, where radioactive materials including tritium and cobalt-60 were allowed to leech into the groundwater, and workers contaminated with radiation.

There was Leonard Riggio, the CEO of Barnes & Nobles, which owns hundreds of university bookstores, including Adelphi’s.  At a forum on book publishing at which short story writer Cynthia Ozick was his copanelist, Riggio pointedly told the audience, in what New York Times columnist Kennedy Fraser called “a bullying moment of shattered privacy,” that his chain had only sold a few hundred of Ozick’s The Shawl.

Fraser wrote of Riggio, “He is a true Horatio Alger, who has risen from work as a bookstore clerk to being the head of a giant corporation that has gobbled up its competitors like a killer shark.  A stocky, feisty fellow in his 50s, he looks like a man who spent his youth prepared to knock down anyone who called him poor and in his maturity is prepared to knock down anyone who thinks he got too rich.” (Fraser, 1997)

John Silber, the chancellor of Boston University, was arguably Adelphi’s most controversial trustee.  During the ’94-’95 academic year, he was the only university president to earn more than Diamandopoulos.  Daniel Gross wrote in the November/December 1995 Lingua Franca:

Setting himself as the ultimate expert on all matters relating to the university, and operating without meaningful oversight from the school’s board of trustees, Silber has systematically shut the faculty out of every significant decision .  .  .  Silber is in many ways a tangle of contradictions: a Kantian moral philosopher who has reaped immense personal gain from his stewardship of a nonprofit institution; a high-minded thinker capable of astonishing pettiness; a relentless promoter of standards who has appointed cronies with questionable credentials.

These words might have been written of Diamandopoulos who, taking his cue from his mentor Silber, sought to intimidate his opponents at every opportunity.  Harassing phone messages were left on the answering machine of the AAUP union that represents Adelphi’s faculty and librarians.  Telephone service to the union office was cut, and the union’s executive director, Cathy Cleaver, barred from campus.

Adelphi petitioned the National Relations Labor Board to decertify the union.  It sued five CSA members and threatened student editor Sara Hajduk with legal action.  The intimidation backfired, as it demonstrated the breakdown of the principles of shared governance at Adelphi.

The Wake-up Call

The Regents hearings, which began in July 1996, ended, in the words of Regent Saul Cohen, with a “positive wake-up call to all sectors of the academic community to observe with greater diligence their governance guidelines, as well as other areas of conduct.” (Cohen, 1997)

The regents chastised the trustees for their conflicts of interest and lack of oversight.  Adelphi’s advertising campaign had been carried out by a firm owned by trustee George Lois. The chair of the Adelphi board, Ernesta Procope, had acted as the broker for Adelphi’s insurance policies, awarding lucrative contracts to a company for which she served as director.

Gerald Jodice, Adelphis executive director of planning, who oversaw many bids at Adelphi, had already been imprisoned for embezzlement when Diamandopoulos hired him. Despite warnings from an internal auditor that Jodice was defrauding Adelphi, Diamandopoulos promoted him.

On February 10, 1997, the regents removed all but one of the Adelphi trustees, citing violations of the university’s articles of governance and state laws governing non-profit organizations.

The Adelphi controversy sparked a debate over the regulatory role of government in higher education, particularly that of the Board of Regents, which oversees New York’s educational and cultural institutions.

Robert Atwell, president emeritus of the American Council on Education, claimed that the creation of regulatory bodies would jeopardize the independence of private institutions.  Instead, Atwell suggested, “the governing boards of private colleges should police themselves, by adopting policies to insure that they are operating in the public interest.” (Atwell, 1997)

Adelphi, however, already had such policies in place.  The problem lay with those charged with implementing them.

The Broader Issues

At issue during the Adelphi controversy was the university’s century-long tradition of liberal education.  In 1995, Adelphi commemorated its centennial as an institution of higher learning with an exhibit of giant photographs that traced the universitys history from its founding in 1896 by Charles Levermore.

The introductory text to the exhibit read: “As the quotations from Adelphi’s founding and current presidents demonstrate, the University’s history, despite all its twists, turns and returns, finally can be seen to represent the consistent pursuit of the liberal ideal in education.”

The exhibit highlighted two quotes, one from Levermore at Adelphi’s first convocation at the turn of the century, the other from Diamandopoulos in 1995.  Levermore’s advice to Adelphi’s first graduating class expresses the ideal of liberal education:

Hold fast to the lengthening view, to the widening interest in all the world.  Cleave to the broad culture for which you have been so faithfully and wisely prepared in the Adelphi halls.  The narrow, practical purpose, however necessary it may be, must yet never stifle your love for things of the spirit, human and divine .  .  .  Such a thorough yet comprehensive culture has been the object of the Adelphi training for you—experiment rather than recitation, discussion rather than memorizing, ideas rather than repetition, the liberal before the special culture.

Compare the above to Diamandopoulos:

The clue to becoming strong in the face of our overpowering and infinitely complex world is deliberately to fit select aspects of the world into your own educated world view; into your construct; into your own determination of who you are and what the lasting pursuits of your lives will be. That is how human beings have dealt creatively over the millennia with their vulnerabilities and fragility, and that is how they have made, despite their limitations, lasting and powerfully significant civilizations.

These are contradictory views of liberal education.  Diamandopoulos conceives of education as the means to power and wealth (“The clue to becoming strong….”).  His advice, to “fit select aspects of the world .  .  .  into your construct,” evokes that “narrow, practical purpose” that Levermore admonishes his students to forsake as an end in itself.

During Diamandopoulos’ decade as president, Adelphi ran ads in major publications celebrating Harvard as the “Adelphi of Massachusetts.” Harvard epitomizes the contradictions in our universities.  The pride of classicists and humanists, Harvard is also the biggest recipient of Olin money among U.S. colleges and universities.

Harvard, the first university in this country to offer elective courses, retains its reputation for innovation.  At the same time, Harvard represents the status quo. Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy may have castigated Harvard as the “Kremlin on the Charles,” but its degrees are credentials of privilege.  (Trumpbour, 1989)

At Adelphi, the Harvard analogy existed for some as an image of excellence; for others, as a demonstration of the fatuous distortions wrought by power.  Diamandopoulos’ years at Harvard, where he obtained his degrees in philosophy, seem to have added to his sense of destiny and self-importance.  “Without elites, without a meritocracy,” said Diamandopoulos, “there is no democracy.” (Eakin, 1995)

This notion of meritocracy, writes John Trumpbour, editor of How Harvard Rules, is “a convenient rationalization for entitlement to power, status, security and personal gain.” (Trumpbour, 1989)

Adelphi had never aspired to be Harvard until Diamandopoulos and his friends came along.  The trustees betrayed Levermore’s legacy by shortchanging the kind of students that Adelphi had traditionally served.

As long as universities are run by trustees culled from the ranks of big business, the community of scholars will exist as image rather than substance.  The success of Adelphi will depend on whether its new trustees see its faculty and students as partners in a shared adventure.

The first actions of the trustees were encouraging.  They promptly fired Diamandopoulos, froze tuition, named faculty leaders as deans, and dropped the attempt to decertify the union.

Financial problems remain, since the old trustees squandered millions of dollars of university funds on their legal expenses.  The Attorney General has filed suit to recover the funds.  The union agreed to allow the administration to lay off tenured faculty in case of financial need. Fortunately, the drop in enrollment in the aftermath of the Adelphi controversy has not been as steep as anticipated.

Despite a decade of pillage, Adelphi has survived.  In this instance, it appears, “the lengthening view” has reclaimed precedence over an education of entitlement and privilege.

ATC 77, November-December 1998