St. John’s University President Rev. Donald Harrington announced his retirement on Friday in the midst of enduring accusations of corruption.
The 67-year-old, who previously acknowledged that he accepted sumptuous gifts from crooked former Dean Cecilia Chang before she committed suicide, sent an email to students and faculty declaring that he will step down effective July 31. Harrington served as president of the University for 24 years.
“The difficulties for everyone during the past year have convinced me, after much prayer and reflection, that the time to leave the presidency has now come,” Harrington said. “The urgings of many members of the Board of Trustees and others persuaded me to remain longer than I had originally planned.”
Robert Wile, Harrington’s chief of staff, who was granted interest-free business loans from the University with the president’s endorsement, also announced that he will step down from his position effective June 30, according to the university’s spokesperson.
Harrington’s retirement announcement elicited mixed responses from notable alumni, elected officials and students.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who graduated from the University’s School of Law, said Harrington “transformed St. John’s from a really good university to a great one.”
“As an alumnus of its law school, I’ve witnessed with pride as Father Harrington strengthened St. John’s academically and physically with new facilities and buildings, while holding fast to the Vincentian mission that has drawn so many of the University’s alumni to public service,” Kelly said.
City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), whose district encompasses the school and who lives near the University, said in a press release that he is proud of Harrington’s accomplishments as president.
“Under his leadership, St. John’s has seen its endowment increased more than five-fold, achieved new heights of academic excellence and expanded its charitable mission to serve the wider community,” Gennaro said. “Father Harrington leaves an indelible legacy of educational and spiritual enrichment for thousands of students, faculty and alumni.”
However, many St. John’s University students concerned about corruption at the university welcomed Harrington’s retirement with open arms.
“Harrington did himself a favor stepping down because his actions went against everything the university stood for,” said Brantley Carter, a senior.
“He’s taking action at a time where if he would’ve stayed longer, it would’ve been harder for him to stay, so this may be the best decision for him,” said David Serna, a sophomore.
The university has not announced who will replace Harrington.