Jeffrey “Dances With Walls” Sonnenfeld is in the news again…

reminding us that sometimes universities – respectable universities – do inexplicably moronic things.

That the board of trustees at Emory University did absolutely nothing at the time is absolutely expected. You have been reading my Trustees Trashing the Place category, yes?

Details. See if you can hold your sides in.

The fraudulent conversion of our taxes to personal profit has always fascinated UD…

… I mean, the many processes by which this can be done…

University-wise, there’s the whole for-profit college scam, covered extensively on this blog (category: Click-Thru U.), and still, despite a few state and federal efforts to shut it down, going strong.

Much more notoriously, there’s ye olde Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement scam, one prominent component of which involves hospital systems paying doctors immense sums to refer patients to them, and then submitting immense numbers of bogus claims based on those referrals.

The biggest penalty so far paid out by a dirty hospital system is the just-announced $118 million case against Adventist Health System, whose CEO sits on the board of trustees of Alabama’s Oakwood University, and whose business was recently named one of fifty “great health systems to know.” Oakwood is a religious school, and this CEO, Donald Jernigan, is always on about our spiritual health even as his business is screwing us six ways to Sunday.

It’s obvious where the ill-gotten gains go.

Hospital chief executives are kind of like the head football coaches of state-salaried workers: many of the highest paid public employees in Florida are executives in the health care industry. Donald Jernigan, CEO of Adventist Health System, takes home a reported $1.98 million annually for his work as head of the non-profit hospital organization which often draws down state money, as well as more than $250,000 in incentives and bonuses.

It takes a heap o’ assholery to get yourself declared “Big Pharma’s Biggest Asshole” by…

…much of the nation’s press, but as you’re admiring 13 to 750 in Seconds Shkreli, remember that the University of Southern California boasts among its trustees Gilead’s John Martin, another amazingly obscene pharma babe.


UPDATE: Matt Taibbi’s thoughts on The American Asshole.


LOL: The Shkreli pill costs $900 in New York!

Probably costs a thousand here in UD‘s ‘thesda.

“… Martin Perez, one of three members of the 15-person [Rutgers University] governing board to attend the meeting in person…”

Run away! Run away!

If you actually show up for the emergency meeting about your criminalized football team and the man who recruited it, it’s liable to be embarrassing. Reporters will almost certainly ask you for a comment, the way they did ol’ Martin up there. And what can you say?


UD found a great comment – she recommends board members use it, or something like it – in this comment thread:

This is dumb, can we move on, this has zero impact on the academic integrity of the average student at Rutgers, stop blowing it up because of 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5 players.

What’s great about this comment is that its player list can be easily expanded as more are arrested. In fact the current number is six, not five, so depending on when the board member uses it she can add numbers to reflect the latest total…. Stop blowing it up because of 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, or 5, or 6, or 7, or 8, or 9, or even ten players.

Cornell University’s Pesky Public/Private Status

The problem with the public part is that they’ve got to put the head of the state senate on their board of trustees.

Now it says here that “The structure of the Board of Trustees has changed several times,” so there may be hope for the school’s reputation in the future. For the present, Cornell gets hit up year after year with whatever grifter’s got that job, which really lowers the tone, trustee-wise.

I know what you’re saying. Ex-officio, big deal! Everyone knows that means shit.

Not everyone knows that. The name’s emblazoned very close to the tippytop of your list of venerables entrusted with the welfare of the university. It says Welcome to Cornell. Welcome to our Board of Trustees.

Here’s some background on Trustee Skelos.

What to do? Albany will always be a whoremarket.

UD presumes that up to now the process of adding the latest Albany name has been like a children’s party game wee UD used to play: Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Blindfolded, you pressed a piece of paper drawn to resemble a donkey’s tail onto where on the wall you figured the image of the rest of the donkey might have been affixed. Then you pulled off your blindfold and laughed at how far the tail was from its proper location. UD‘s figuring that the process of state senate trustee name entry at Cornell involves the blind pressing but not the laughter. She figures it’s like I’m sticking this ass on this page but I don’t want to see and I don’t want to know. It’s a leap in the dark, a leap of faithlessness, a leap of joylessness.

Since there’s apparently precedent for changing the composition of the BOT at Cornell, UD recommends a quick chat among themselves to that, uh, end.

The process of institutional collapse at Yeshiva University is exactly the same as the process of institutional collapse at South Carolina State University.

It’s pretty much the same process at any university that loses accreditation (both of these universities are distinctly heading that way), loses its financial base (both are Moody’s basket cases), loses alumni donations (SCSU never had much of that, but Yeshiva did, and it’s losing it), and loses students (enrollment is tanking at both schools). If you want to know how to drive your school into the dirt, you can learn the procedure at almost any failing or failed university. A few schools (Sweet Briar) shut down because of market or demographic forces they really can’t control (very few women want to go to single-sex schools), but the overwhelming number of institutional collapses of the sort Yeshiva and SCSU are undergoing display the same mix of factors. Let’s review them, using as our focus this account of the latest developments at Yeshiva.

UD used to think that boards of trustees were pretty pointless – rich businesspeople overseeing, in a vague way, the activities of a university, but, basically, above all, and ever and ever, being called upon to transfer huge chunks of their personal fortune over to the place. Indeed this non-interventionism might be more or less the way things are at high-functioning schools… Maybe you’ll find one or two trustees who actually do understand universities, and who actually have a meaningful relationship with the school’s president… At happy roly-poly little sports factories like Auburn you’ll find one or two trustees (they played for the team back when) actually setting admissions policies and sticking their noses in recruitment, but this form of corruption doesn’t push the school in the direction of collapse. You can’t collapse a school that’s already, like Auburn, an intellectual joke. And it can in fact be perfectly serviceable to have a BOT made up of clueless sheep herded by a brilliant Babe.

Most BOT’s, in other words, don’t amount to much in the smoothly running institutional scheme of things; they’re like US ambassadors to Malta. How badly can they fuck up? You don’t want the person you appoint ambassador to Malta to be ambassador to Afghanistan; for Afghanistan, you need someone who knows how to be an ambassador. For Malta, a rich donor to the current President’s campaign will do. For trustee, a rich donor to the university will do.

But it turns out that a truly depraved board of trustees can bring down a school. Truly stupid, self-serving, self-righteous, risk-taking cronies of the sort Yeshiva and SCSU boast can take an already vulnerable campus and pound it into the dirt.

The key is greed and secrecy.

The key is assembling a group of male buddies (if you want total destruction, the more men the better), many of whom are in each others’ pockets financially, none of whom knows or cares anything about universities as such, and all of whom think they’re doing the lord’s work – for race, for religion, for class. Schools that implode tend to be fantastically parochial. Their trustees are fantastically parochial people, ignorant of much beyond their particular political or spiritual orthodoxy. These trustees routinely bring on board characters like Jonathan Pinson and Bernard Madoff and let them run the show because hey Jonathan! Bernie! My man!

So now your trustees are hard at work stealing the school’s endowment while, one by one, being very publicly carted off to prison or court – a carting off that really does very little for your school’s reputation and its alumni loyalty. For president at this point you have one of two types: The twelfth deer in the headlights you’ve hired in twelve days (the board merrily ignores this person) or just the opposite – a loyal long-serving crony-servant.

The process of destruction is now so bad at Yeshiva and SCSU that the faculty is routinely voting no confidence left and right… But another problem with BOTs of this sort is that they do not know that the faculty exists. What does a faculty do? Students they get – students go to concerts and games and students provide the money the BOT misappropriates. Students, yes. Faculty? So this sort of BOT/university president essentially does not communicate with faculty. Their relationship to faculty is restricted to firing most of it when the BOT’s years of malfeasance destroy the school’s credit rating and they can’t borrow any more money.

“It’s the time of year when we put the schedule together, and we realized we were paralyzed because we didn’t know which faculty would be around,” said [Gillian] Steinberg, an associate professor of English and director of writing at YC. “The administration won’t tell us who will get a contract renewal.”

She can’t take it anymore; she’s leaving Yeshiva.

Then there are the students. You can see Yeshiva cultivating a good longterm relationship with them as well.

According Yadin Teitz, a junior at Yeshiva College who has been leading student efforts to get information from the administration, the “administration operates without consulting the faculty.”

“There’s no connection between what’s going on at the top and at the bottom,” Teitz, an editor at The Commentator student newspaper, told The Jewish Week. Teitz’s March 3 article was the first time students, and many faculty members, found out about cuts being made to the core curriculum.

“There’s no transparency,” said Teitz, who said it was “crazy” that faculty members had to find out about cuts to their own programs through a student newspaper.

Exactly the same at SCSU. You’ve basically got a semi-criminalized sect sequestered in a building somewhere on campus, working feverishly to continue bleeding what money they can out of the institution before it utterly bleeds out.

Leslie Berlowitz, the Bremmer Foundation…

… these sorts of obscenely greedy non-profit people/institutions are a perennial source of amusement at University Diaries, passionate as we are here about hypocrisy at its most pious. And it doesn’t get any more pious than the non-profit world, where it’s all for Art, for God, for Enlightenment… for Humanity, dammit!

But chauffeur-driven Berlowitz and the astoundingly overcompensated trustees of Bremmer are teeny weeny greed/hypocrisy tales… Their organizations are too runty to make much of a ruckus when local reporters force open the books and expose everyone. There’s a pleasure in the revelations, to be sure; but it’s a modest pleasure, like drawing on a Cuban cigar while standing on a fine-sand beach on a clear night… Happy-making, but circumscribed…

And then there’s the ABIM.

Let us take a trip mise en ABIM – into the abyss of the American Board of Internal Medicine, as it buys multimillion dollar apartments which offer owners chauffeur driven late model BMWs because American medicine will never obtain optimal patient care unless the ABIM trustees can stay in this apartment when they’re passing through Philadelphia…

The ABIM has figured out over the years that its monopoly on the recertification of doctors means they’ve got the men by the balls and the women by whatever you get the women by. You wanna practice, you gotta stay certified. So…

1. charge tens of thousands of dollars for the test and for test prep materials; and

2. constantly increase the number of tests that have to be taken.

Through these clever expediencies, this non-profit has accumulated tens of millions of dollars for itself! We’re talking tens of thousands of doctors after all! There’s nothing runty about it! And you can’t argue with the results:

[I]n 2001—just as the earliest round of new-test standard was kicking in—the ABIM brought in $16 million in revenue. Its total compensation for all of its top officers and directors was $1.3 million. The highest paid officer received about $230,000 a year. Two others made about $200,000, and the starting salary below that was less than $150,000. Printing was its largest contractor expense. That was followed by legal fees of $106,000.

Twelve years later? ABIM is showering cash on its top executives—including some officers earning more than $400,000 a year. In the tax period ending June 2013—the latest data available—ABIM brought in $55 million in revenue. Its highest paid officer made more than $800,000 a year from ABIM and related ventures. The total pay for ABIM’s top officers quadrupled. Its largest contractor expense went to the same law firm it was using a decade earlier, but the amounts charged were 20 times more.

But then it turns out that you can’t just keep increasing your salary and your tests and your real estate portfolio forever. A tipping point will eventually be reached, and here the tipping point is named Paul S. Teirstein. Teirstein points out that

The ABIM is a private, self-appointed certifying organization. Although it has made important contributions to patient care, it has also grown into a $55-million-per-year business, unfettered by competition, selling proprietary, copyrighted products.

So Teirstein has introduced competition, starting his own certifying organization:

The group’s fees are much, much lower than those charged by the ABIM. And its board and management—all top names in medicine—work for free.

“Yeshiva U. Board’s Culture of Risk-Taking Led to $500M …

… Meltdown.”

That being the case, this letter from the trustees to that school’s students is the very definition of chutzpah.

Having royally fucked the now junk-rated school through greed and irresponsibility, its trustees turn around and lecture its students.

Sometimes change can create concern. But the fact is that change needs to be embraced, and change provides an opportunity to make improvements in our structure, and in the way we support the needs and aspirations of our exceptional students.

Don’t be scared, boys and girls! We were nervous before we invested all that money with Bernard Madoff and Exra Merkin, but we had the courage to do it! And that was only one of the practically criminal financial risks we took with your money! Make us – epitomized by the most high-profile among us, Zygi Wilf – your model of personal behavior!


Let UD just say this for the record: If she were a Yeshiva University student, professor, or graduate, she would have serious anger issues.

“[G]ross neglect … management ineptitude, and … trustee leadership absent without leave.”

AKA Yeshiva University.

Reynold Levy, in an article about the failure of some significant New York City non-profits, singles out Yeshiva:

Teetering on the brink is Yeshiva University, together with its Einstein School of Medicine and its Cardozo Law School… Where were the board members, whom we assume were holding [Yeshiva and other] precious agencies accountable for prudent and responsible service to others? How is it possible that they utterly failed to exercise basic fiduciary responsibilities? What explains the apparent absence at these institutions of due diligence and the checks and balances normally afforded by well-functioning finance, audit, investment and executive committees? And what about government oversight for [institutions like] Yeshiva …on the receiving end of major public grants and contracts?

Yeshiva’s massively overpaid president, who oversaw the destruction of this school, remains in charge.

Jay Michaelson on Rabbi Professor Freundel

When I lived in Washington, I attended Kesher Israel regularly. It was a thrill to sit behind Senator Joseph Lieberman, Leon Wieseltier and other luminaries of the American Jewish scene. They and many others took pride in articulating a literate, intelligent Modern Orthodox Jewish sensibility – and Freundel was an exemplar of it…

All this time, he was a sex offender, a fraud and a pervert.

… [T]he Freundel scandal looks a lot like the Madoff* scandal. There are questions that should have been asked, suspicions that should have been raised. But the self-reinforcing loops of elite power — X likes him, X is powerful, therefore I should like him — blinded those entrusted to keep watch.

And then there are the nonsexual allegations. One of Freundel’s victims, Bethany Mandel, told The Daily Beast that we’ve gotten Freundel wrong. “People keep calling him a pervert and yes, he’s a pervert, but he’s also a power hungry sociopath,” Mandel said. “It wasn’t about porn. It was about power, and this was additional power no one knew he had.”

This, too, should have been visible in plain view to anyone who worked closely with Freundel.

… It can seem, downing a shot of whiskey with someone of influence, that you are in the presence of greatness. Really, you are only in the presence of power.


* Board Chair, Sy Syms School of Business; Honorary Degree recipient; Treasurer, Board of Trustees — all at Yeshiva University.

‘He has argued that the school’s investment performance is no worse than other universities.’

Once again, Yeshiva University’s president – one of the highest-paid university presidents in the country – shows – in the statement above – his keen grasp of fiscal realities.

From Bloomberg Business, this morning:

Of [American universities] with endowments of more than $1 billion, only one lost money last year: Yeshiva University, which shrunk 7.6 percent to $1.09 billion…


No wonder Yeshiva’s medical school faculty is in a funk.

“We have gone from one bumble and stumble and scandal to another.”

And although things have gotten so squalid at the University of Louisville that some members of the board of trustees have begun to complain, UD trusts that the tightly wound little ball of corruption that is UL will continue to bounce about the collegiate landscape, unobstructed by rationality or responsibility, for a long time to come.

The school people call not the U of L but the U of Smell has for years been one of the great stalwarts of this blog, generating financial, academic, and (of course) athletic scandals with Stakhanovite vigor. An important component of the U of Smell’s success has been absolute control of an absolutely worthless board of trustees, a board of trustees that spends its meetings fiddling while Smell burns. Now suddenly a few serious people on the board are threatening to sweep the BOT’s tinker toys off the conference table; they are “call[ing] for changing the focus of board meetings from ‘ritual and ceremony’ to the ‘business of the university.'”

To which UD says whoa. You are talking about changing a board of trustees whose model has been the imperial family of Japan to a board that functions as a policy-oriented unit. Forget it.

“I don’t understand why the board doesn’t hold [Joel] accountable and fire him.”

So, let’s go there. Let’s pose the question that anyone with even a smidgeon of information about Yeshiva University over the last few years has posed: Why does that university’s grossly incompetent, buck-passing president retain his job?

UD suggests that the answer to the question lies within the question as posed up there in her headline. The board. Why doesn’t the board of trustees at Yeshiva University fire its president?

Well, let’s consider a few present and past board members of that institution. Zygi Wilf, a very powerful board member (an entire campus of YU bears his last name), was a few months ago convicted of “fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.” Ezra Merkin, Bernie Madoff’s right hand man, has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud suits, and there are tons more fraud suits pending against him. Bernie Madoff himself of course was treasurer of Yeshiva’s board of trustees, plus he chaired the board of Yeshiva’s Sy Syms School of Business. Until recently, conflict of interest was rife on Yeshiva’s BOT.

UD wonders. Maybe Joel doesn’t go because he knows too much. About the board of trustees. Maybe there’s more where that other stuff came from.


One more thing: UD suspects the I could puke factor is also increasingly at play at Yeshiva. Whether in terms of alumni gifts or enrollment, I have to assume that part of Yeshiva’s financial catastrophe involves larger and larger numbers of people just saying Look – the sex scandals (hard to keep track of these, but for those counting, here’s the latest), the money scandals, the conflicts of interest, the lying, the criminals on the BOT… All in the context of Yeshiva’s piously self-righteous self-representation… Yick. It’s just too much. Forget it.

The Pride of USC

The University of Southern California couldn’t ask for a better trustee. John Martin just priced his desperately-needed hepatitis medication at $1,125-per-pill. Last year he gave himself $180 million in compensation. (Read what a columnist at Forbes, of all places, thinks of John’s take-home pay.)

Yes, when it comes to modeling ethical behavior for a university’s students, when it comes to bringing that certain something to the running of a university, Brown University’s famous Steven Cohen (now that the SEC has forced him to close the shop) can’t do better than USC’s very own John Martin.

“[My opponents are invoking the] cynical rhetoric of class warfare.”

For those of us impatiently awaiting Tom “Kristallnacht” Perkins’ successor, Vinod Khosla has arrived not a moment too soon. It’s his beach, and he’ll sue all the way to the Supreme Court if he has to.

There’s even a wonderful mine, mine, all mine cosmic convergence here: For years, Khosla worked for Tom Perkins’ venture firm.


Khosla has progressive academia’s endorsement as a trustee of Berkeley’s Blum Center (and Mr. Blum... eh. Nuff said.)

Maybe Robert Reich, who has been eloquent on the corrosive social and moral effects of income inequality, can take Khosla aside for a chat. Reich too is on the Blum board.

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