Blogs > HNN > UMDNJ: The Enron of Academia

Apr 5, 2006 4:50 pm

UMDNJ: The Enron of Academia

Back in February, I blogged about a scandal at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), suggesting that the scandal ought to be national news. (Located in Newark, UMDNJ is one of the largest university hospitals in the country--if not the largest.) Well, UMDNJ slowly but surely is becoming national news. A front-page article in the Metro section of yesterday's New York Times tells a mind-boggling tale of corruption:
Patronage hiring was so pervasive at New Jersey's state medical school that job applications were marked with a numeral indicating the potency of the applicants' political connections, according to a report released on Monday by a federal monitor.

While political appointees had received favorable treatment at the school for decades, the report says, the practice became so ingrained by late 2004 that it had evolved into a formal ranking system.

Candidates who were recommended by then-United States Representative Robert Menendez, State Senator Raymond Lesniak or a handful of others received the highest rating: 1. Those referred by less powerful officials, like members of the medical system's board, would receive a 2 or 3.
It all gives new meaning to the phrase"take a number."

The article continues:

University officials dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts each year, and the monitor is still investigating reports that millions went to firms that were politically connected, had questionable qualifications and — in some cases — do not appear to have performed any tangible work.

But Mr. Stern, a former United States attorney and federal judge, recommended several structural changes to strengthen fiscal oversight at the school.

"The auditing and compliance were grossly deficient, and that aided in creating an environment where U.M.D.N.J. has been used as a political patronage machine," said John Inglesino, who is working on Mr. Stern's investigation. Mr. Inglesino is a lawyer in Mr. Stern's firm, Stern & Kilcullen of Roseland, N.J.
Question: Every vice has its rationalization, so how are the patron-mongers justifying this one?

Answer: Well, what else but"diversity" could pull off—or do I mean turn—the relevant trick?
Senator Menendez said through a spokesman that he recommended qualified applicants during the years he served as a congressman, but had no idea that the university ranked applicants based on their political connections.

"Then-Congressman Menendez urged U.M.D.N.J. to improve its hiring diversity and on several occasions recommended qualified individuals," said Matthew Miller, his spokesman.
Menendez's lame excuse reminds me of a line from Aristotle's Ethics:"there are many ways to be in error, but only one way to be correct; that is why error is easy and correctness difficult, since it is easy to miss the target and difficult to hit it" (1106a30-1106b1). Error may not be right, but it is unquestionably diverse.

UMDNJ is but one (large) urban university, so perhaps its corruption is sui generis. But it makes you wonder, doesn't it, about what goes on behind closed doors at other universities in the name of such rationalizations as"diversity" and" collegiality." As Aristotle says in the opening line of his Metaphysics,"all men by nature desire to know."

I am a man, take it from there.

P.S., 4:45 pm: A useful follow-up piece in today's Times ends with this comment:
Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers, said that even in New Jersey's checkered political history, it was shocking to find that government officials had taken"an institution of higher learning, and a source of health care for thousands of people, and filled it with hacks."
I like the"even."

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