Trustees delay vote on new ethics policy

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

Emerson's Board of Trustees failed to ratify a policy that would require college employees to disclose potential conflicts of interest during its biannual meeting on Oct. 25. Board members disagreed on the scope and specifics of a proposed policy and declined to vote on the draft, said David Rosen, Emerson's vice president of public affairs.

The next opportunity for the board to approve the policy will be in March, almost eight months after two Emerson financial aid officers were named in a Congressional report detailing questionable practices in the student loan industry.

Daniel Pinch, the college's former dean of enrollment, was fired after the report revealed he had received $36,000 between 2001 and 2003 from the loan consolidation company, Collegiate Funding Services, the college was recommending to students. Emerson's director of financial aid, Michelle Smith, was a member of Citizen's Bank's Education Advisory Board and took part in one of what the Congressional report called "lavish trips" paid for by the bank.

After the report was released five months ago, Rosen told The Beacon in September that such a policy was long overdue.

"In fairness, we don't have a process where we require employees to disclose these things, but we are in the process of finalizing a conflict-of-interest policy," he said then.

In an interview after the board's meeting, Rosen said the board is taking a reasonable time to draft the policy.

"I'll say in broad terms, it's down to level of detail," he said. "In terms of the overall concept, it will be very similar [to other policies]."

Rosen said Emerson's disclosure policy was similar to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators code of conduct. It was drafted by Vice President Christine Hughes, the college's general counsel, Emerson President Jacqueline Liebergott and the college's other vice presidents.

The association, a financial aid industry group to which Emerson belongs, developed a voluntary 12-point ethics policy in 1999, which was updated and expanded in May 2007.

The association's code of conduct suggests that financial aid officers disclose "any involvement or interest in any entity involved in any aspect of student financial aid" to the college.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has made cleaning up the national student loan industry a priority for his administration, also released a suggested ethics policy for financial aid officers.

Cuomo attempted to subpoena Emerson's financial aid documents in June, and the school reached an agreement to turn the documents over to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Though the board of trustees will not meet again until March, Rosen said a telephone or mail vote on the issue would be possible before then. He said the policy would be approved no later than the next board meeting.

Emily Greenwell, the Student Government Association's representative to the Board of Trustees, said the policy was not addressed while she was at the meeting or on the agenda for the October meeting, but that the board met in executive session before she was permitted to sit in.

Rosen said the board discussed the policy behind closed doors, but deferred the vote.

Interviewed Emerson students said the issue should be made a priority.

"Five months, I think that's a little long," said Sonya Jones, a junior theatre education major. "Maybe one or two months would be better."