By MATT SMITHNew College of California president Martin Hamilton (pictured left) has resigned amid a records-keeping scandal that threatens the school’s accreditation, a school spokesman told SF Weekly Friday afternoon.
The school has been struggling to recover from a move last month by the Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC) to put the institution on "probation", a step that precedes possible yanking of the college's accreditation. WASC will make a decision regarding the school's accreditation following an on-site audit by investigators this Fall.
According to a WASC report, faculty and staff blame
New College President Martin Hamilton for alleged conflicts of interest, lax record keeping, and questionable financial practices. Among Hamilton's alleged misdeeds: He allegedly befriended a self-described international student named Kaushal Niroula who promised a large donation to the college in exchange for inappropriate access to academic programs.
According to a preliminary WASC investigative report, which refers to Niroula as "student A", as well as interviews with faculty and staff, “Student A's” relationship with the President came to resemble a Nigerian-style Internet scam. Hamilton may have violated university policies regarding enrollment and appropriate accounting for class credit, in exchange for promises of a large gift from Niroula, according to faculty, students, and the WASC report. The gift never materialized and Niroula eventually disappeared.
According to the WASC report: “Mr. Hamilton and Student A. developed a close and public friendship. Student A. represented himself to Mr. Hamiton and others as a person of considerable means, alleging at one time funds in a non-U.S. bank account in excess of $3.5 million. (None of our interviews were able to account for the fact that these funds were never made available to support student A.) It became widely known around the campus that A. had promised Mr. Hamilton a significant gift for the college, most commonly alleged to be $1 milliion."
According to the report, Hamilton may have personally intervened to give Niroula passing grades for courses that it was unclear whether he had completed. He may have intervened to increase the amount of credit for courses Niroula supposedly attended.
According to a preliminary draft of a letter prepared by New College in response to the WASC report, Martin said there was nothing improper about his relationship with Niroula, and that allegations of impropriety were the result of a campaign by disgruntled faculty to unfairly undermine the college. WASC executive director Ralph Wolff said in an interview that he was aware of Hamilton's claim that allegations about his friendship with Niroula were the result of vindictive exaggeration by faculty members. Wolff added that Hamilton’s version of events will be investigated during the agency's investigation this fall.
The following is a statement issued by New College Trustees Friday:
"The Board of Trustees of New College wishes to make the following statement: We regard New College as one of the most significant institutions to emerge from the idealism of the social movements of the 1960s. For more than 35 years the College has been steadfast in its support for providing a progressive education to those who have lacked the opportunity to get one.
The College has gone to great lengths, with limited financial resources and significant sacrifices by those who have sustained it, to support the hope that human beings can come together and pool their inherent goodness and depth of insight to create a more just, sacred and sustainable world -- a world founded upon peace, love, and a recognition of our fundamental equality as sacred vessels of a common spark.
We wish to now affirm to the New College Community that at this challenging moment in our history, we will do everything in our power to preserve the College's accreditation by assuring that the College comes into full compliance with all WASC standards. While we do not agree with everything in the WASC Commission letter placing the College on probation, we do recognize that the College must take decisive steps to improve financial, administrative, and academic practices.
We also recognize that we must accomplish these changes without compromising New College's unique mission and its commitment to social change and social justice. To this end the Board has yesterday unanimously acted to:
1. Accept Martin Hamilton's resignation as President effective September 15. Martin is on a leave of absence effective August 2, 2007.
2. Appoint Board member Luis G. Molina as Acting President.
3. Direct the Acting President to form a search committee for an Interim President.
During the coming weeks, we will continue to work intensively to accomplish our goals, meeting regularly with the community to receive your wisdom and to share ours, such as it with you. We greatly appreciated your comments at the open session last Tuesday evening, and we will schedule another such session to continue this important dialogue early next week. Thank you for your commitment to New College and to the creation of a just, sacred, and sustainable world."
Read more about the New College of California at their Wikipedia entry, their July 31 story in the Chronicle, or the Guardian story from July 24, Matt Smith on Date Rape Allegations involving New College in 2006, and the SF Weekly story on New College's founder possibly being a pedophile, or Frances Reade's 2007 take on New College's Masters Degree in Protest.