Former CalU president chastises university system over firing

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Angelo Armenti Jr. says his firing as president of California University of Pennsylvania violated his contract and that the State System of Higher Education tried using his two remaining years of salary as leverage to keep him from suing.

He made the assertions in a letter to the State System board of governors chairman, Guido Pichini, that contained scathing criticisms by Mr. Armenti of how he was treated by the State System.

He said he met briefly with the chairman last Wednesday in Harrisburg, and at the meeting's conclusion, "you fired me without cause or explanation" in a two-line letter.

Even though his contract requires that he be notified in writing six months before being fired, "I was given five minutes verbal notice," he said.

"After 20 years of loyal service, you have treated me and my wife like criminals," he wrote. "You changed the locks on my office while I was in Harrisburg meeting with you, and you cut off my and Barbara's computer access.

"We couldn't even notify our children of my firing before they heard it on the news," he said.

The letter dated Monday and obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was verified Tuesday by the State System, which offered no immediate response.

Mr. Armenti, in a follow-up note to the Post-Gazette, said his firing has sent "a terrifying signal" to all State System employees that "if you cross certain people in Harrisburg, you will be summarily fired. ..."

In the letter, Mr. Armenti accused Mr. Pichini of distributing to local and national media what the former president said were seriously flawed findings of an investigation by State System auditors into campus spending practices and movement of funds. He said Mr. Pichini distributed the findings without the former president's written rebuttal.

Mr. Armenti said he suspects the document was used to secure board authorization to fire him.

"I hold you responsible for the destruction of my reputation and the public humiliation that you have heaped on me and my family," Mr. Armenti wrote.

Mr. Armenti, whose salary was $227,160 under a contract that runs through June 2014, said in the letter that he spoke by phone with the State System's chief legal counsel, Leonidas Pandeladis, the day after being fired.

Mr. Armenti said that since he had been fired without cause, he wanted to know when he would receive his remaining salary.

"He (Mr. Pandeladis) said I would get that payment but only if I didn't litigate. If I did litigate, the board would then change its tune and say that I had been fired for cause," Mr. Armenti wrote.

Mr. Armenti said Mr. Pichini referred to "turmoil" at Cal U, but Mr. Armenti said that turmoil was instigated by individuals in the State System chancellor's office.

Mr. Armenti said "to those who have set out to destroy my reputation with lies, please know that I intend to bring serious public scrutiny to their reputations with the truth."

Mr. Armenti, 72, president since 1992, was the longest serving among the 14 State System presidents until his removal.

Enrollment grew rapidly on his watch, and tens of millions of dollars of capital investment remade much of the campus of 9,500 students from its residence halls to a just-opened convocation center housing an arena that seats 6,000 people.

But in recent months, faculty leaders expressed growing concern about campus debt and spending. A series of complaints, most anonymous, brought State System auditors to the campus in February.

The State System has not stated the reason for Mr. Armenti's dismissal, nor linked the decision to the auditors' findings.

Their report noted three areas of particular concern: reliance on expected donations to help pay for the convocation center; movement of $5.9 million in net profits from Cal U housing facilities into a Foundation for California University of Pennsylvania scholarship fund when the auditors said that money should have stayed within the university; and whether Cal U and the foundation are as separate as they should be by law.

The auditors noted a 2009 bond document stating Cal U had cash-on-hand and donations for the convocation center totaling $12.3 million, and later documents that said much of that amount was no longer viable.

A separate State System memo obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Monday under the state Right to Know Law said of $832,511 spent by the foundation scholarship fund to date, more than half went to non-scholarship endeavors such as consultant and speaking fees and a hotel feasibility study.

Cal U spokeswoman Christine Kindle declined to discuss the appropriateness of that spending or whether Cal U would seek return of the remaining housing profits transferred to the foundation, saying those and other issues are now under review by Cal U's new leadership.

State Rep. Peter Daley, D-Washington/Fayette, a Cal U trustee, said the non-scholarship spending at first blush "doesn't look good" but he also questioned the System's handling of Mr. Armenti's firing and said he wants more financial documentation from State System officials.

education - neigh_washington

Bill Schackner: or 412-263-1977. First Published May 23, 2012 4:00 AM


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