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Art, audits, and allegations – Lincoln University, President Niara Sudarkasa

President Niara Sudarkasa is embroiled in a controversy that is affecting state appropriations for Lincoln University

Lincoln University, Pa.
Summer break is normally a time of
respite, a pause in the scholastic action to allow administrators,
faculty, and students a little timeout and a chance to get the
batteries charged. But it seems the only things being charged at
Lincoln University in rural southeastern Pennsylvania this summer are
highly publicized allegations of fiscal mismanagement and misconduct.

Tensions have reached such a high level on the leafy campus, about
fifty miles west of Philadelphia, that during a hastily called meeting
of the board of trustees in July, a handful of board members broached
the topic of calling on the university’s president, Dr. Niara
Sudarkasa, to resign.

For now, Sudarkasa, who has been at the helm at Lincoln since 1987,
is staying put. She says she will see the school through its current
crisis, which she says has been orchestrated by a handful of

“There is no truth whatsoever to any of the allegations you may have heard or read,” she told those at the meeting.

The turmoil has been especially troubling for Lincoln, a
historically Black institution founded in 1854 that currently has
approximately 1,500 students and lays claim to a long list of
distinguished graduates, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood
Marshall; poet Langston Hughes; Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of
Nigeria; and Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana.

To understand the genesis of the current problems facing Lincoln
requires a quick course in art history — specifically, a priceless
collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings known as
the Barnes Foundation, which Lincoln controls.

Albert C. Barnes made a fortune developing a surgical antiseptic
after the turn of the century. He built a mansion and complex on
Philadelphia’s Main Line, where he bought and stored artwork.

When he died in 1954, he left the entire collection — over 4,000
sculptures and paintings that include hundreds of originals by Cezanne,
Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso and dozens of other
world-renown masters — to be maintained by Lincoln.

Lincoln took full control of the collection in 1988. That same
year, Richard H. Glanton — a prominent Philadelphia attorney, general
counsel to Lincoln, and Sudarkasa’s longtime confidant — became the
foundation’s president. Glanton ran the Barnes with a singular purpose,
taking some of the work on a highly acclaimed world tour.

But Glanton’s highly vocal fights with the foundation’s wealthy
Main Line neighbors who disliked the Barnes’s museum-like air were
legendary. Fearing that the feuding had become too unproductive and
that Glanton’s control of the foundation had become too absolute,
Sudarkasa began to push for Glanton’s ouster from the Barnes last fall.

Soon after that, her own troubles began. Last October, Pennsylvania
State Senator Vincent J. Fumo — the powerful head of the state’s
Senate Appropriations Committee — launched a probe into spending on
Sudarkasa’s campus home, which is owned by the university. The probe
concluded that Sudarkasa, acting without prior approval from the
trustee board, spent $500,000 to renovate the house — including adding
a whirlpool, a workout room, and a bar in the basement. The renovations
took place over a ten-year period.

The findings did not go over well with many faculty and students at
Lincoln, which gets about one-third of its $30 million annual budget
from the state.

But the state investigation didn’t stop with the spending on the
house. Employees reportedly told investigators that they had painted
Sudarkasa’s private residence in Maryland using university-owned
equipment. Another employee has alleged that he personally transported
university-owned furniture and artwork to the president’s private home.

Allegations also surfaced that Sudarkasa billed private travel to
her university-supplied credit card. Additionally, there are charges
that her husband, John L. Clark, the former director of Lincoln’s
physical plant, allowed hazardous waste to be dumped in a trench on the
400-acre campus.

Sudarkasa and Clark have denied the allegations.

“[She has] maintained from the outset that she welcomes this level
of scrutiny,” said Sudarkasa’s spokesman, David Brown. “The deeper you
look, you will see that she has done nothing improper.”

Glanton was voted out as president of the Barnes Foundation in February and resigned as general counsel to Lincoln in March.

About that same time, Sudarkasa, with the support of a majority of
trustees, launched her own spending probe. The school hired KPMG Peat
Marwick, a big-five accounting firm, to do the internal audit.

Among other things, KPMG auditor’s concluded that Glanton, along
with Eugene L. Cliett, Lincoln’s former vice president of financial
affairs, was engaged in “conflicts of interest” because of business
deals between them, the school, and the Barnes Foundation.

Both Glanton and Cliett have denied any wrongdoing. Glanton has
also charged that the only reason Sudarkasa had the KPMG audit
performed was to discredit him.

Now a third probe is underway, this time by the state auditor
general’s Office of Special Investigations. That probe is looking into
the allegations first disclosed by Sen. Fumo’s office, as well as an
array of construction contracts at Lincoln that were overseen by Clark.
According to sources, three construction companies received a total of
nearly $1 million in contracts at Lincoln without having to go through
the required bidding process.

The state auditor general is expected to release his findings in
the next few months. The state legislature, which was set to approve
Lincoln’s $11 million 1998-99 appropriation in June, withheld the money
until it reconvenes in late September. That has left Lincoln scrambling
to pay its vendors and to reopen without disruption for the fall

How this will all end is anyone’s guess, especially since everyone involved has said they did nothing wrong or improper.

For State Sen. Robert J. Thompson, whose district includes Lincoln
and who has been one of the school’s staunchest political supporters,
responsibility starts at the top.

“[Sudarkasa] is ultimately responsible for what happens there,”
Thompson says. “But right now, the issue is getting credible answers to
questions that have been asked.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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