When students at St John's University in New York received a work assignment from Dean Cecilia Chang, the chances were it had less to do with learning than with preparing her lunch – or shovelling snow, or taking her to the hairdressers'.
She cracked the whip all right – but more in the kitchen than the classroom.
Until recently, Ms Chang was a top administrator and fundraiser on campus and head of the university's Institute of Asian Studies. But prosecutors allege, specifically targeted students with scholarships, many from overseas, saying they would lose them if they didn't fulfil the household chores she ordered.
For New Yorkers, she risks becoming a new figure for popular disparagement and disgust, just as the late hotelier Leona Helmsley was for the way she mistreated her staff while lavishing her fortune on her dog. So "the Queen of Mean" may now make way for "The Dean of Mean". "St John's Student Slaves" wailed the headline in yesterday's New York Post.
The student-abuse charges, filed on Thursday, are only the latest of Ms Chang's troubles, moreover. Last month, she was accused of embezzling $1m (£630,000) from the university, including a $250,000 (£160,000) donation from a Saudi prince, charges she denied. It was as the FBI pursued its investigation into the alleged financial misdeeds that her treatment of her educational wards came to light.
"Chang threatened the students and placed them in fear that if they refused to perform these personal services, they would lose their scholarships and be unable to attend St. John's," FBI Special Agent Kenneth Hosey wrote in the arrest warrant. After an initial hearing, she was sent to jail by a judge pending further bail hearings.
According to the criminal complaint, students were obliged to do pretty much anything and everything in the Chang household, including removing snow in front of her home in Queens, New York, delivering cash to her while she was at the tables at a casino in Connecticut and, on one occasion, driving her son to the airport at 3am. They would also regularly chauffeur her to restaurants and hair salons, and carry out menial tasks such as shopping for food, cooking and washing clothes.
The son was also identified in the complaint for the ill-treatment of one female student in particular. "Chang's son treated her badly, often yelling and cursing at her, calling her stupid and complaining about the food," Mr Hosey added. Sometimes the two worlds of Dean Chang would overlap. Thus, prosecutors claim, she had one of her students doctor her credit-card statements of personal spending to make them appear to be costs she could claim as work expenses.
"In addition to the outrageous way she treated her students, in exchange for scholarships, she had them falsify documents," said Charles Kleinberg, an assistant US attorney, at Ms Chang's bail hearing. She was suspended from work in January and fired in June.
Ron Rubenstein, her defence lawyer, contended that the latest charges against his client would be shown at trial to be unfounded. "The fact that this is even a crime is shocking," he told reporters yesterday.Reuse content