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Editorial: UB should address Collins scandal

blog by UB Spectrum  • 

Has anybody been reading The Spectrum over the past few months? Did anyone happen to notice that UB illegally donated to former Erie County Executive Chris Collins in 2010? Does anyone care that there have been no consequences for anybody involved?

In October, we reported that The Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE, the “business arm” of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) attended breakfast and dinner fundraisers for Collins’ campaign. Collins, a Republican, was then campaigning for re-election (he lost to Democrat Mark Poloncarz in November).

TCIE’s $2,560 payment to Collins – which officials said was comprised of funds the TCIE generates for itself – was made via the tax-exempt, not-for-profit UB Foundation and thus was illegal. The UB Foundation is a private corporation that is immune to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) despite being inextricably tied to a public university and its money.

Since those involved made their initial statements, UB officials close to the situation grew quiet. A FOIL request for information surrounding the “breakfast and dinner events” was submitted, denied, appealed, and ultimately denied again. Both UB and a FOIL appeals officer said UB has no documents with any information regarding the matter.

We also found out that the TCIE had a detailed history with Collins. It was TCIE that installed a business strategy called “Lean Six Sigma” into Collins’ administration to help him fulfill his promise of “running county government like a business.” The TCIE received a modest $449,250.10 over two years for its services. A TCIE document obtained by The Spectrum reads like a campaign pamphlet for Collins.

At the time, the dean of TCIE’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was Harvey Stenger. He served on the county’s Lean Six Sigma Advisory Committee while TCIE worked with Collins’ administration.

Not only has Stenger not had to answer for his role in the TCIE-Collins relationship, but he has advanced in the academic world. He is now the president of Binghamton University after spending last semester as interim provost. On his way out the door, his office dodged an interview he had with The Spectrum.

The denial of the FOIL appeal has likely put this matter to rest, for the moment. We’re left with writing this editorial, hoping to inspire others to demand more information.

There are many questions left unanswered, including:

• TCIE Executive Director Tim Leyh said TCIE’s attendance at the Collins fundraisers was strictly for networking purposes. He said they didn’t realize they were political fundraisers, and he described the incident as an “honest mistake.” How could they have not realized this? A whopping $2,560 for breakfast and dinner? Was it at the Chophouse? They won’t say.

• Is the TCIE public or private? It claims to be a part of the School of Engineering (public), but it does its accounting with the UB Foundation (private). And it either keeps no records of its transactions or hides them all at the UB Foundation (private).

• Where was The Buffalo News during all of this? We broke the story when the race between Collins and Poloncarz was at fever pitch. It was an illegal campaign donation involving the region’s largest employer and the county executive.

We hereby call on the UB administration, the UB Foundation, the TCIE, and all other parties involved in the TCIE-Collins mess to answer for what happened and to provide evidence in support of any statements made. It is clear that at the very least, bad decisions were made. At the very worst, this was pay-to-play. It is time for someone to own up and explain.

We also call on all members of the UB and Buffalo community to pay attention to these matters and make their voices heard. Since the campaign contributions were exposed, UB officials have remained almost totally silent on the matter, and so far, it has worked.

Feel free to write in to The Spectrum, get a petition signed, contact the Student Association (which has contact with the administration), or send an email to Buffalo News reporters and UB officials. And answer the poll in the online version of this article. Or all of the above.

If you think the silence should be broken, be the one to break it, because UB certainly won’t.

TAGGED: harvey stenger, illegal, money, scandal, tcie, ub, ub spectrum, university at buffalo

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