In the final week before Spring Break, the Yale Divinity School and Berkeley Divinity School quietly renewed their 30-year-old partnership for another decade. In any other year, the renewal would require little more than a routine rubber stamp, but the recent improprieties at Berkeley and the state Attorney General’s Office’s ongoing investigation of the school make this reaffiliation decision more complicated than usual.
The scandals atop Prospect Street started in December when the Hartford Courant reported that a confidential Yale audit had revealed improper spending by Berkeley Dean R. William Franklin, who allegedly used school funds to pay for his daughter’s Harvard Medical School education, a personal trip to Colorado, and his dry cleaning.
The fallout from the allegations led to the firing of Judy Stebbins, a Yale Divinity School administrator who controlled the books for both the Berkeley and Yale schools, and eventually the resignation of Franklin himself. Christian Sonne, the chairman of Berkeley’s Board of Trustees, later said that he approved the $10,000 payment for the medical school tuition because he did not know that it violated Yale policy. Worth Loomis, the vice chairman of Berkeley’s Board of Trustees, also said he was unaware of Yale’s policy on education payments. He added that Berkeley may have been making similar mistakes even before Franklin’s tenure as dean.
University Secretary Linda Lorimer confirmed Loomis’ suspicions, saying not only that Yale does not approve payments for graduate education, but also that only employees with seven years of experience at Yale are eligible for undergraduate tuition payments, which Berkeley gave Franklin for seven semesters despite his being at the University only since 1998.
Through it all, Yale officials have kept relatively mum, citing a University policy that prevents them from discussing the personnel issues involved.
The comments by Sonne and Loomis show that the misspending was probably as much an act of incompetence allowed by inattention as one of malicious intent. Naturally, someone of Franklin’s stature should know better than to accept personal payments without a full understanding of University policies. But for Yale students and faculty, the Berkeley Divinity School case is problematic not so much because Berkeley was breaking policy, but rather because the University remained unaware of it for so disturbingly long.
All told, the amount of money for which Berkeley is responsible represents a negligible amount in the larger pool of Yale financial resources. Given the high value of Berkeley’s contribution to the combined divinity curriculum, Yale did the right thing for its divinity students by renewing the partnership.
But the mistakes made at Berkeley show both the risk in affiliation agreements and the limitations of the University’s auditing procedures. Yale’s administrators would be well-served to think seriously about revising policies in these areas, or else they may be doomed to repeat the debacle at Berkeley, and next time they might not be lucky enough to have the stakes stay so small.