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Sudarkasa resigns in wake of state’s audit report – Lincoln University, Niara Sudarkasa


Faced with a scathing report from the
state, Lincoln University’s president, Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, announced
on September 15 that she would relinquish her position at the end of
the calendar year.

Sudarkasa made her announcement during a hastily-called
all-university convocation, just four days before the college’s board
of trustees was set to vote on a measure to fire her. Dr. Kenneth M.
Sadler, a North Carolina dentist and president of the university’s
board of trustees, acknowledged that he had asked for Sudarkasa’s

The 60-year-old Sudarkasa has been president of Lincoln, an
historically Black college near Philadelphia, since 1987. She said her
departure was in the best interest of the school and would allow
Lincoln to regain a sense of normalcy.

“For most of the past academic year, I have been under siege,”
Sudarkasa told a crowd of about 500 students, faculty, and others who
gathered for the convocation. “Today, I am publicly and officially
announcing that I will leave the presidency of Lincoln University,
effective December 31, 1998.”

Many people broke out in applause when Sudarkasa spoke those words.
Others stood up before her remarks were complete and simply walked out
of the campus’ sweltering gymnasium.

It was not immediately clear who would replace Sudarkasa, or
whether the board of trustees would even allow her to stay through the
fall semester. A number of trustees have said privately that, given the
gravity of the findings by the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office,
Sudarkasa should leave immediately.

“I’m not certain we want to give her any more money if it turns out
she or her husband defalcated this university,” one trustee said.

The auditor’s report prompted numerous calls from state lawmakers
and school officials for changes in how the university is run. Lincoln
gets about one-third of its $30million budget from the state.

Sudarkasa’s husband, John L. Clark, was Lincoln’s director of
physical facilities from 1988 until 1995, when he retired. Clark’s
actions while on campus became the main focus of the auditor’s

State auditor general Robert P. Casey Jr. said he launched the
probe after his office received a number of allegations of financial
improprieties at the school. Many of the allegations, Casey said, came
from top-ranking school officials.

The auditor general’s summary report — released September 9, after
an eight-month investigation — concludes that the university engaged
in a pattern of mismanagement and waste in the department of physical
plant; inadequate financial management, planning, and oversight in the
renovation of the presidential residence; and poor judgment, and a
disregard for sound business practices and university policies in a
1997 real estate transaction.

Other findings of the investigation include:

* Lincoln inappropriately paid more than $34,000 in personal legal
fees for Sudarkasa, who was involved in a four-year income tax dispute
with the Internal Revenue Service. Payment of these expenses, the
report says, was approved by the former vice president of fiscal
affairs, Eugene Cliett, without review to determine if they were within
the scope of the $10,000 limit which the president had authorized.
Sudarkasa told investigators she was unaware, at the time, that the
university had made the payments.

* Lincoln reimbursed its former lawyer, Richard H. Glanton, $14,680
for legal fees and airfare for a trip he took to Nigeria in 1997 that
the report called “unnecessary.”

* Clark, as director of the physical plant, directed that at least
$435,000 in contracts in 1993 and 1994 go to two construction companies
owned by people “close to Clark.” It said Clark had employees type up
bids from fictitious companies to make it appear the university
procedure of requiring three bids for any contract over $5,000 was met.

“Internal controls were absent or ignored,” the report said, “in
part because [Clark] was the spouse of the university’s president.”

A statement accompanying the report placed the blame for the
management problems on Sudarkasa, Clark, Glanton, and Eugene L. Cliett,
who resigned as Lincoln’s vice president for fiscal affairs earlier
this year.

The auditor’s report has been turned over to the state Attorney
General’s Office to determine whether any criminal activity occurred.

Glanton has insisted in interviews that he did nothing improper. He
said he took the trip to Nigeria at Sudarkasa’s insistence to
“represent the interest of the university.” She maintains that she
neither authorized the trip nor gave him any specific instruction to go
as a representative of the university.

Cliett, who came to Lincoln in late 1993, said most of the
financial problems cited in the report were “well entrenched” before
his arrival. He said it took him “less than two years to bring most of
this to a halt. You don’t find this going on in 1996 and 1997.”

In her resignation speech, Sudarkasa said she would “accept the
fact that there have been serious management deficiencies at Lincoln
under my administration.” But she also insisted that others,
specifically Cliett and Glanton, share in the blame. “Virtually all of
the management deficiencies have been traced to a lack of sufficient
internal controls, for which the fiscal office is responsible,” she

She also defended the actions of her husband, Clark.

“I can assure you that this man, who worked himself to the bone for
Lincoln University, did not commit the despicable and unlawful acts
being laid at his doorstep,” she said.

Sadler, the trustee president, issued a statement on the day
Sudarkasa resigned saying that Lincoln was well on its way to
correcting the problems found by the auditor general.

“The board of trustees is unequivocally committed to ferreting out
and eliminating all waste and mismanagement” at Lincoln, Sadler said,
adding that he was hopeful that the school “can move forward, students
can focus on their studies, and a new administration… can regain the
institution’s historic and high tradition of quality higher education.”

Ironically, Sudarkasa’s resignation comes in a year where Lincoln
is enjoying a near-record enrollment, with about 1,500 full-time
students registered this semester. Sudarkasa has been widely credited

expanding Lincoln’s international curriculum and has nurtured close ties between Lincoln and a number of African nations.

During her tenure, Sudarkasa increased Lincoln’s presence in
Philadelphia with the creation of a new “urban center” campus and urban
studies program. In recent years, Lincoln also eradicated its budget
deficit, expanded its endowment, and increased its alumni donations.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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