The need to clear up the Divinity debacle

The recent discovery of shady dealings and financial irregularities at the Yale and Berkeley Divinity Schools is cause for serious concern among students, and it demands an equally thoughtful response from the administration.

The scandal began last summer when Yale initiated a seemingly routine audit of the financial records at Berkeley Divinity School, an Episcopal seminary that has been associated with Yale since 1971. The auditors discovered that Berkeley’s dean, Ralph William Franklin, had used school funds to pay for, among other things, his daughter’s Harvard Medical School education, a personal trip to Colorado, and his dry cleaning.

In the following months, the findings toppled administrators at the school’s highest level, including Judy Stebbins of Yale Divinity School, who had control over the books of both Yale and Berkeley, and, finally Franklin himself, who resigned his post as Berkeley dean and Yale associate dean in December. Meanwhile, Yale Facilities Manager Krishna Ramsunder was fired and arrested in September for stealing $16,000 of rent money, mostly from international students, since 1997.

Without question, the scandal is a major embarassment for the University, in which all Berkeley students are enrolled, and which employs administrators to watch over both institutions and helps select the Berkeley dean. The crime and deception committed by people chosen by Yale and Berkeley to serve as community, spiritual and academic leaders is extremely disturbing, and the fact that it took the University this long to discover the wrongdoings is nearly as troubling.

Since Franklin’s resignation in December, Yale Divinity School Dean Rebecca Chopp has refused to speak to the News about the scandal, and Yale President Richard Levin has limited discussion of the dismissals by citing a University policy prohibiting him from elaborating on personnel decisions. While it is understandable not to discuss personal details about the firings, Chopp and Levin are wrong to leave students uninformed about how the severe financial and moral slips almost went undetected for as long as they did.

One almost certain culprit is the University’s irregular and seemingly cursory auditing practices. Levin has explained that the University’s financial records as a whole are audited each year, and that specific departments are audited from time to time. But the University had not audited the Divinity School’s books for 10 years, and, in fact, investigated it last year only because Chopp had only recently taken over — a process that raises serious question about other potential long-term wrongdoings under a former dean and top financial adminstrator who clearly weren’t doing their jobs responsibly.

Given the obvious failings of the current system, the University would be well served to re-examine its auditing practices. It should also reconsider the value of its affiliation agreement between Berkeley and Yale, which is up for its 10-year renewal this year. But most of all, the administration should openly address the scandal and publicize its proposed response before more information is exposed and public confidence is shaken further still.

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