Yeshiva University: Where It All Ends.

University Diaries, I’ve had occasion to say, couldn’t exist without Yeshiva University. Yeshiva is part of a tiny American university elite, a group of schools so arrogant, so dishonest, so mismanaged, so inbred, so simply without a clue, that their unceasing scandals provide a good deal of this blog’s content.

Yeshiva, furthermore, is a religious institution, which makes its very bad behavior that much more astounding. To a man (there aren’t any women in positions of authority there), the Yeshiva representatives UD has experienced appear to her to be pious hypocrites.

Yeshiva’s latest catastrophe was totally expected. Let me quote in its entirety the short notice the Jewish Daily Forward just placed on its website.

Yeshiva University’s credit rating has been downgraded by a major ratings agency amid large and growing deficits, a falling endowment and fears of costly litigation stemming from recent allegations of sexual abuse at its high school.

Moody’s downgraded Y.U.’s debt from A2 to Baa1, putting it below the median credit rating for similar institutions.

The agency says that the litigation prospects of the alleged sexual abuse victims will largely determine if the debt is downgraded further.

Since its peak in 2007 Y.U.’s endowment has cratered, falling 45%, doing handily worse than the stock market. Y.U.’s reliance on hedge funds, in particular, has been extremely damaging. It was also slammed by the financial crisis and damaged by its entanglement with Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scam.

Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit filed last week by former students at Y.U.’s affiliated high school, alleging administrative negligence in response to abuse they suffered there, is demanding over $380 million in damages. According to Moody’s the attendant publicity may have large consequences for Yeshiva’s fundraising efforts.

As a commenter on this notice writes, “the major damage to the YU bond ratings is not just because of the lawsuit, but because YU has probably lost the confidence of donors.” One Yeshiva donor, Andrew Sole, tried to warn Yeshiva as far back as five years ago. Read his letter calling for the resignation of the entire board of trustees here. The letter, it goes without saying, was ignored.

And note the word “entanglement” up there, relative to Bernard Madoff’s scheme. Madoff, you recall, was a high-ranking, much-venerated trustee of Yeshiva University up to the moment he was taken into custody. Ezra Merkin was also on the board of trustees at that time, working, in consort with Madoff, the sort of financial magic that has become the stuff of legend. Yeshiva tried to make itself out to be a victim of Madoff’s, but it was an enabler, it made plenty of money off of him while the making was good, and it looked the other way when anyone could see that Madoff’s returns were totally impossible.

“Moral bankruptcy,” Algemeiner newspaper said of Yeshiva University earlier this year. That moral bankruptcy has so disgusted donors that it threatens to become financial bankruptcy.

“Rutgers pays Barchi $744,000 a year if he hits his bonus marks, along with a house, a car and other perks. Surely he can squeak by on that.”

But can he? The problem with – call it the Squeak Assumption – is that, as economists remind us, one’s perception of one’s financial condition has everything to do with what other people in your immediate world earn.

A few years ago, several of Harvard’s money managers resigned in protest because instead of making the industry standard for their job description (with bonuses and all, around thirty million a year at that time), they were stuck (because of alumni protests about over-compensation) at around ten, fifteen million. A few years ago, a University of Chicago law professor with a household income of close to half a million dollars cried poor in the national press.

If Steven Cohen, whose personal worth is between eight and ten billion dollars, sits on your board of trustees, you, as president of Brown University, are going to be challenged to maintain your self-esteem. No one likes to be poor.

If you want to understand why the new president of Rutgers, Robert Barchi, is, like a total idiot, continuing to engage in flagrant, self-serving conflict of interest, and thereby adding one more outrageous scandal to the ten others going on at that university, you have to understand what I’m trying to tell you. You have to try to put yourself in Barchi’s shoes. In his corporate-board world, clearing one million dollars a year is the absolute minimum, the barest acceptable situation. One million dollars is in fact for Barchi squeaking by. If Barchi has to drop his corporate money-for-nothing and suddenly plummet to $800,000 a year, this is what his world will look like to him:

One walks along a very rough path of the river bank, in between clothes posts and washing lines, to reach a chaotic group of little, one-storied, one-roomed cabins. Most of them have earth floors, and working, living and sleeping all take place in the one room. In such a hole, barely six feet long and five wide, I saw two beds—and what beds and bedding!—which filled the room, except for the fireplace and doorstep. Several of these huts, as far as I could see, were completely empty, although the door was open and the inhabitants were leaning against the door posts. In front of the doors filth and garbage abounded. I could not see the pavement, but from time to time I felt it was there because my feet scraped it…

Unless you understand Barchi’s world, from Barchi’s perspective, you cannot possibly understand how he came to assume the presidency of a university barely recovering from years of financial corruption and immediately set about securing his corporate board memberships.

“Rutgers has moved from storm to storm…”

I suppose it’s some sort of compensation, when the story about your young, already totally blighted university presidency jumps to the New York Times, that the quality of prose being produced about the fiasco significantly improves – even to the point of poetry. Rutgers has moved from storm to storm is lovely, lilting, memorable writing; even as the article in the Times rehearses all the stupid stuff Robert Barchi has overseen in the months since he took over at Rutgers, it sweetens things somehow with this poignant formulation…

UD thinks the poetry resides in the word moved… Think of the similar E.E. Cummings line

my father moved through dooms of love

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Perhaps, as John Updike wrote, life’s a shabby subterfuge; certainly the last few years at Rutgers and the UMDNJ have been shabby in the extreme. Under its latest leader, a man who does not even understand the concept of conflict of interest, Rutgers straggles on. And the rain it raineth every day.

Crime Library

Context matters. If you’re the new president of a crime- and scandal-ridden university, you want to watch yourself. Given the scuzzy reputation of the joint, you want to do all you can, personally, to model a new, less scuzzy ethos.

So for instance if you’ve just taken over the notorious University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a school UD has long described as having rolling prison admissions (scroll down and enjoy), you want to set a personal example of probity and non-greed and all the things UMDNJ has never before known.

You’ve taken over America’s most financially corrupt university as part of its recent merger with Rutgers University. And oh yeah that’s another thing. If at Rutgers you’re running a national laughingstock (thanks to endless sports scandals culminating in a Saturday Night Live skit about your sadistic basketball coach — again, scroll down… forever…) and a fiscal disgrace (thanks to your bankrupting the school to pay for your sports program), you really, really, really want to set a moral example as you begin to run the school.

But hey. It’s Jersey. Whaddya expect? You expect a president who can be content with his legitimate close-to-a-million-dollars-a-year salary? It’s fucking Jersey!

“It smells to high hell quite frankly,” said Jay W. Lorsch, a professor at Harvard Business School who focuses on corporate governance.

Yeah! The place stinks already; how ’bout bringing your own stink bombs to the game? President Barchi’s particular stink bombs are of course all about sitting on corporate boards – as the New York Times points out in this article, it’s the done thing if you’re a university president panting to make (as the title of a recent book about the practice has it) money for nothing. And Barchi adds an extra jolt of stink by sitting on the boards of companies who do business with Rutgers.

What with perennially expensive sports scandals, and a sports program that in any case is bankrupting the school, you won’t be surprised to hear that tuition at Rutgers is so high that student protests escalate by the day. It can only make things better for students to realize that instead of running the school Barchi is off to relax-and-rejuvenate corporate retreats. What better way for the president of a struggling, scandal-ridden, public university to comport himself?

“The study was led by professor Hiroaki Matsubara, and included among its researchers an un-named Novartis employee, who was identified as an adjunct lecturer at Osaka City University.”

No better way to optimize your Novartis-funded results on a Novartis drug than to place a Novartis employee on your faculty and put that person in charge of statistical results. This research protocol all but guarantees that your results will be in line with corporate efforts in this case to establish the drug as effective for pretty much any human ill you can think of. And that is just what happened!

The Novartis plant held the same position in four other Japanese university labs. Truly an impressive effort on the drug-maker’s part.

Northern Exposure

“Canadian medical schools have some explaining to do.”

A recent study reveals practically non-existent conflict of interest policies at many med schools there.

Northern Ontario School of Medicine takes pride of place, having apparently zero meaningful conflict of interest policies, but the main point is clear: In common with some med schools in the United States, ghostwriting, as well as general corporate influence in the classroom and lab, is rampant up north.

Canada shares the pain…

… of pharma-compromised universities, to which we in the US have become accustomed. As is almost always the case in these scandals, only because a medical student at the University of Toronto bothered to look into both the financial interests of one of his professors, and the origin of the pain management textbook the professor used in a mandatory course, did it become clear that even as “Canada’s opioid addiction epidemic took root,” he and his classmates were being encouraged to prescribe arguably the most dangerous of prescription opiates. Although more powerful than morphine, oxycodone was consistently described, in the book and by the professor in his lectures, as among the safest of this class of pills in terms of addiction.

The student, now a doctor, discovered that the professor was a consultant to Purdue, the drug’s maker, and that “quotes [in the book] that endorsed the drug never actually existed.” That is, the professor (who wrote the book, presumably with help from the manufacturer) apparently made up positive statements about the drug and put them in the book.

The professor protests that he did the lectures “for free.” Which UD guesses means he’s boasting that the university didn’t pay him. Why should it? I’m sure Purdue paid him far more than the university ever could.

Anyway. What’s done is done. “In 2000, less than 4 per cent of the opiate addicts in withdrawal treatment at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) were addicted to oxycodone, the primary ingredient in such prescription drugs as OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan. By 2004, that figure had climbed to 55.4 per cent.”

One assumes plenty of other pharma consultants remain in teaching positions in other Canadian universities. How often does the odd whistle-blower among the students come along and discover how foully he and his fellow students are being corrupted? Almost never.

“An absolute scientific nightmare”…

… to you, maybe… But to the American Psychiatric Association, with its eminent leaders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is an absolute goldmine.

“Ladies and gentlemen, for today’s lesson…

my hubby!  (♥!!)  Fill out these forms and help us get him elected!”

“This institution has not provided policies for assessment after numerous attempts to contact via email and phone. As a result, their grade remains an F.”

Once UD gets tired of chronicling the depraved big-time sports programs at the University of Tennessee, she can turn to the UT med school in Memphis.

‘Several top universities have taken steps in recent years to ban or limit their professors from accepting pharmaceutical payouts. In 2010, the Harvard Medical School issued a new conflict-of-interest policy that prohibited professors from speaking for drug companies or accepting gifts, travel, or meals. Earlier that year, Stanford went even further, banning pharmaceutical representatives from patient-care areas and prohibiting its faculty from using industry reps to ghostwrite articles. Stanford medical school dean Phillip Pizzo warned at the time that without the changes, “our reputation can be tarnished.”’

Prohibiting your faculty from using industry representatives to ghostwrite their articles! Now I’ve seen everything! The gall.

If you’re going to waste VERY large sums of money…

…you’ll need to keep tuition very high too.

Thus, at the University of Hawaii, a perennial source of embarrassing stories on this blog (type hawaii in my search engine), tuition has had to double in the last five years in order to keep administration palms greased. In the last eleven years, tuition has increased by 141 percent. Without these increases, the campus cronyism that doles out huge sums to inept friends with construction companies – in the expectation, I guess, that some of that money will come right back to the dolers – would not be able to operate.

Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You.

“In Alexandria, Va., the rate of antidepressant use is the highest in the country, with a full 40 percent of residents receiving prescriptions.”

Antidepressants and antipsychotics are having a field day in America, and one can only gaze at the above statistic in admiration at the marketing techniques that have gotten pharma this far. Down the street from UD‘s ‘thesda, it won’t be long before fully half of the population has convinced itself it needs to take powerful pills, with powerful side effects, to get through life.

Given the exact same demographics here in ‘thesda (wealthy well-educated DC suburb), can UD’s neighborhood be far behind?

And what have universities to do with this?

Well, there are powerful pharma-sponsored incentives for universities to do quick sloppy work toward generating more and more pills for this amazing growth market. Their research subjects are human beings – often very vulnerable human beings – who need protection from the frightening implications of this situation.

One person who reportedly did not receive those protections was Dan Markingson, who in 2004 committed suicide while enrolled in a University of Minnesota psychiatric drug study. The details of the case are here; a much shorter summary appears as preamble to an online petition asking that a serious inquiry into research ethics at Minnesota be initiated. This seems to me a reasonable idea, and I’ve happily signed the petition.

Amid our many grand universities here in the U S of A…

… there are quite a few Wee Ones.

Wee Ones are teeny weeny provincial pinpricks on the national collegiate map, places run by teeny weeny provincial people all of whom have pretty much exactly the same religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds.

You do not have to be in the literal provinces to be a Wee One; indeed, the biggest Wee One in America (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) is Yeshiva University, located in the dynamic midst of our most dynamic metropolis. Forcing ground of Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin, Yeshiva has attained its signature WO mix of academic go-nowhere-ism, financial corruption, and (the true distinguishing mark of the fully-evolved WO) religious self-righteousness, because its all-male, all-buddy board of trustees has difficulty grasping the meaning of the term conflict of interest.

To be sure, some Wee Ones, like President-for-Life Glenn Poshard’s Southern Illinois University, are located (right, check the name) in the provinces. Some WOs lack the moral superiority religious institutions bring to their misdeeds. But all Wee Ones share – now or in the recent past – conflicted boards of trustees; and many, of course, add to this mix a willingly conflicted university president.

If you review this blog’s Conflict of Interest category for the Wee Ones hit parade, you’ll find New York’s St John’s University right at the front of the fun.

Now, provincial typically means convoluted, so you’re going to have to put on your thinking cap to follow all of the insider connections in the latest St John’s (a Catholic school whose president is a priest) scandal. For instance, a certain Wile, chief of staff to President Father Donald Harrington, got a loan from the Chair of the BOT…

Wile used the loan from the former Chair [of the BOT] to help fund a real-estate venture with university president Father Donald Harrington, his boss. Neither loan was disclosed to the board of trustees at the time they were made.

Oh, with Father Harrington! Okay, and you and Harrington and I guess the former Chair decided not to tell the rest of the guys on the board about it. Okay.

Wile went on to be not only Harrington’s chief of staff, but vice-president for institutional development (given his remarkable money smarts, which landed him in a position where he needed massive loans and got them unethically). And… I dunno.. there’s more… but ol’ UD is running out of steam on this one…

“Paul Allaire, a long-time professor in the engineering school, may have used a personal consulting company to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the program he presided over at UVa.”

UD has told you about this form of campus malfeasance repeatedly. So common are engineering professors who set up their own firms and divert university money that UD has suggested armed guards be posted at their offices as a sort of discouragement to them.

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History here.

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