Every year about this time, the competition within the academic world revs into high gear. High school seniors are frantic to know if they made the cut at their first-choice institution. Admissions officers are holding their collective breath in the hopes that their offers of admission will yield the perfect class: students whose parents can pay the full freight of the whopping tuition bill; students whose high school GPAs and board scores will make the class look smart; students who have a special talent with an oboe, a tennis racket, or a paint brush; students who are not white. The competition in the world of college admissions is gloves-off, bare-knuckled, and implacable.
This year is no different, except that in 2011 the competition is not about who gets in and who does not as much as it is who steals what and how much from the campus coffers.
First there was Middlebury Associate Professor Kateri Carmola’s penny-ante pilfering of historical society funds up in Vermont. Not to be outdone, the heartland’s own Queen of Embezzlement Karen Pletz scored something in the neighborhood of $1.5 million from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Now comes a mom-and-pop appropriations committee late of Vassar College, located in scenic Poughkeepsie, New York.
According to the Journal News, Arthur Fisher and his wife Jennie have brought the embezzlement record back to an East Coast elite institution, where some might argue it belongs. The Fishers stand accused of ripping off Vassar to the tune of $1.9 million over five years. Mr. Fisher, until December, was a “project construction manager” at the college. His management skills netted himself and his little woman quite a haul:
four late-model BMWs and one Ford F150 truck, worth approximately $500,000 combined; three Rolex watches valued at $50,000; 10 unregistered handguns and one military style .223-caliber rifle; and various fraudulent law enforcement IDs and badges from a host of agencies, including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and the New York Police Department, among others. Police said the IDs contained Arthur Fisher’s name and photograph.
You’ll be relieved to learn, as I was, that police are fairly certain the fake badges and ID’s do not “appear to be stolen….They appear to be replicas.”
Perhaps you’ll also be comforted to learn, as I am not, that Vassar was all over locking the barn door that in their haste the Fishers left wide open when they absconded with their loot. Says hapless college spokesman Jeff Kosmacher, “There have been steps taken at the college in terms of financial and project management oversight that will strengthen how we handle the business of the college in the future.” Kosmacher went on to insist that “the college maintained strong control systems before the alleged embezzlement.”
I am not comforted because I feel so bad for Vassar. It’s just announced a fundraising campaign with a goal of $400 million, $262 million of which is already in hand. Will donors who give less than $1.9 million now wonder if the college will be able to keep track of their giving? Imagine the donor contemplating a gift of $1.5 million. Will she now feel compelled to make the donation directly to BMW and Rolex, rather than letting the funds pass through the college? What a terrible state of affairs!
But, this story has a punch line. Guess where the Fishers live: Ossining. How convenient.