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February 18th, 2004 The Nose | The Nose
 

Lewis & Clark College: Beau Monde on the Hill

     
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Anatomy 101
Imagine Pete Rose hustling back to baseball. Nixon returning to the Oval Office. Bob Packwood once again chasing Senate aides around his desk.

That's how the Nose feels about what's going on at Lewis & Clark College. After dragging the Southwest Portland liberal-arts school through of one of the most tawdry financial scandals at any institution of higher learning in recent years, Michael Mooney plans to come back to campus to teach a few classes. What he'll teach has yet to be determined. The running joke is that he will either be teaching ethics or accounting, but anatomy also seems an option: The guy has stones the size of a Hermiston melon.

After all, this is the man who single-handedly ensured that Lewis & Clark will not simply be known as Monica's alma mater when he lent $10.5 million of the college's operating funds to a speculative Idaho oil firm. The loan, done secretly and in direct violation of college rules, was never paid back. (The fact that Mooney at the same time bought stock in the company using his own funds only added to the intrigue.)

Lewis & Clark's administration has zipped its lips about the planned return to campus of the man who, as president of the college, brought it to the brink of financial ruin.

Of course, the college's Board of Trustees never was terribly interested in discussing the matter. Even though the board became aware of Mooney's actions early in 2003, it chose to keep the matter secret from faculty, from students and from the attorney general's office, until WW published the details in June. Two weeks later, Mooney had left the presidency and headed to Japan to take a temporary gig at Waseda University.

Now he's announced that he'll be back, arguing that, as a member of the tenured faculty of the college, he'd like to teach and, of course, get paid. (see "The Prodigal President," WW, Feb. 4, 2004).

While some on campus think this is merely a ploy by Mooney to negotiate a sweeter severance package from Lewis & Clark, few doubt that his return would be a huge distraction for the college, which is rapidly slipping from its status as a vital cog in the intellectual life of this city into an embarrassment that, by comparison, makes the Beau Monde College of Hair Design seem like an ivory tower of academic integrity.

Of course, the trustees could right this listing ship by doing what they should have done one year ago--get Mooney off the Lewis & Clark payroll. As a member of the tenured faculty, Mooney enjoys a degree of protection, but he can be removed if the board is willing to fire him "for cause." That would require it to show that Mooney violated college policies and breached fiduciary duty, something that should be about as difficult as proving that Homo sapiens has opposable thumbs.

In fact, the former president may be unwittingly doing the college a favor. If the Mooney scandal has any value, it is in the teachable moment it presents the college about ethics, the importance of transparency in financial transactions and the willingness of members of this city's elite to deal seriously with one of their own. To date, the college's fathers have been unwilling to take advantage of this instructive opportunity. Now, Mooney may have left them no choice but to give an anatomy lesson of their own.

 
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