Lisa S. Coico, president of City College, the flagship of the City University of New York (CUNY), abruptly resigned Friday amid an investigation into her use of college funds to pay for personal expenses, The New York Times reported.
Evidence the Times provided to the school a day earlier — which suggested that a 2011 memo detailing Coico’s reimbursements had been fabricated — may have sparked her resignation.
Established in 1847 as the Free Academy of New York to educate “the children of the whole people,” as its founder Townsend Harris said, City College has been called “the poor man’s Harvard.”
Coico, the first alum to assume the presidency in the history of the school, served in her role since 2010.But reports of improper use of school funds have trailed her for years. Since June, federal prosecutors had been looking into the way she spent school funds.
The 21st Century Foundation, a nonprofit affiliated with the college, is also currently under federal investigation related to Coico’s personal spending of school funds. For instance, one donation account managed by the foundation showed a balance of just $76, when the number should have been $600,000.
In 2011, reports surfaced of Coico using the college’s fundraising dollars to pay tens of thousands for housekeeping, furniture, and food. She was forced to repay $51,000 to the college for some of the expenses.
The same year, the school began to look more closely at her spending and itemized her purchases into three categories: “college,” “personal” and “iffy,” according to an email between two school officials cited by The Times.
Still, Coico has maintained that she did not engage in “inappropriate use” of college funds, according to The Times.
Coico’s resignation is yet another blow to the recently beleaguered CUNY system. As part of the largest urban public university system in the US, City College has seen serious financial difficulty as of late.
“We have gone backwards,” Frederick R. Brodzinski, a senior administrator, told The Times in May. “Morale is horrible on campus.”
Although enrollment has steadily risen over the past decade, state funding has been declining.
Buildings on campus are falling into disrepair, and classes are being cut, forcing students to face sobering decisions about whether they can finish their degree requirements. And professors, who haven’t received a raise in six years, have also threatened to strike if they’re unable to get a new contract.
That’s dismaying news for a school whose mission has been to serve ambitious poor and working-class students.
The student body at CUNY is incredibly diverse, with black, Hispanic, and white students each comprising about 25% of the population, and Asian students comprising about 18%. Half of the students live on family incomes of less than $30,000, according to The Times.
CUNY is now requesting a “comprehensive investigation” by New York into Coico’s spending, The Wall Street Journal reported. Dr. Mary Erina Driscoll has begun serving as interim president for the school.
CUNY did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.