For months, I’ve railed against the series of misfortunes and administrative missteps plaguing the beleaguered students, alumni and faculty of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
For those of you with insufficient airspeed – earlier this year, current and former student government members going back 15-years issued an open letter to the university’s board of trustees challenging perceived mismanagement and the outsized influence of Supreme Chairman Mori Hosseini.
This was followed by a vote of no confidence by the faculty senate – the strongest censure available to the disenfranchised professors and associates who develop and present the gold standard in aerospace and engineering curricula.
Stories of extravagant spending by the board – to include a $1 million-dollar chateau at the Paris Air Show, and luxury accommodations during out-of-state meetings – along with questionable travel and expenditures by highly compensated administrators foster the sense that all is not as it seems at our own Harvard of the Sky.
Of course, ERAU “leadership” immediately pooh-poohed the notion that this collective cry for help had any legitimacy, spinning that the measures taken by students and faculty were, “largely symbolic with no legal consequences.”
Well, let me tell you what does have significant consequences.
Earlier this year, a government watchdog blog – John Q. Public – which is authored by a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, obtained an internal Air Force document indicating that a retired General has been accused of sexual assault by a female active duty colonel formerly under his command.
As I understand it, the report refers to three incidents which allegedly occurred between 2007 and 2009, in which the male General is accused of using the power of his position to coerce the complainant into sexual activity.
Why is this important to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University?
In September, Military.com identified Retired Air Force General – and current ERAU Trustee – Arthur J. Lichte as the subject of the criminal investigation.
Since his retirement in 2010, General Lichte has been a busy man.
In addition to his service at Embry-Riddle, he has also been appointed to the board of directors of European aerospace giant Airbus Group; and Air Transport Services Group, a leading provider of air cargo and logistical services for domestic and international carriers.
During his military service, General Lichte once commanded the Air Mobility Command.
As a Volusia County taxpayer (and unofficial member of the Jack L. Hunt Society) who contributed to our recent endowment of $1.5 million dollars in public funds to the university, I have concerns about the optics of allowing General Lichte to remain a voting member of the board while he is under active criminal investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Trust me – I’m not making light of this matter.
I still hold to the old fashioned belief that public funds should be used in the public interest. And I am highly suspicious whenever our hard-earned tax dollars are appropriated for dubious “economic development” fairy tales.
Once the elected officials have given our money away, no one – and I mean no one – bothers to ensure that our substantial investment is protected.
It just vaporizes.
I also believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, entitled to due process, and the right to confront their accuser in a court of law. And General Lichte’s 38-years of honorable service to our nation is deserving of our respect and admiration.
My sincere hope is that justice prevails.
But given the sensitivities, and obvious implications for a private university already reeling from internal turmoil, dysfunction and questionable leadership, not to mention the recent arrest of a civil engineering professor on alleged child sex abuse charges, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest – including General Lichte’s – to simply call for his departure from the board until the matter has been decided by military authorities?
As reported by the John Q. Public blog, “Whoever ends up in the cross-hairs of this nascent scandal, it underscores that the high-paid help are no less susceptible to moral, ethical, and indeed criminal fallibility than those who fall under their command. It’s one of the reasons it’s so important to choose with the utmost care those who will wield massive military authority. It’s also a reason to responsibly curtail that authority.”
In my view, the same can be said for those appointed to leadership positions in the cloistered confines of a private university in acute crisis, where the enormous influence of one man is being openly and courageously challenged by those who matter most.