By Cheyenne Graden; The Whetstone
Junior Justyn Cox said that Wesley’s former Board of Trustees Chair Robert Harra Jr. should have stepped down nearly four years ago when he was indicted for bank fraud.
“The first thing that should have been done once he was indicted was for him to be suspended, or for the trustees to take the initiative to force him to step down,” he said.
Robert Harra Jr., former Chair of Wesley College’s Board of Trustees, was sentenced to six years in federal prison.
He was charged in 2015 with conspiracy to commit fraud related to the purchase and sale of securities, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and making false statements to regulators and the SEC.
Harra and three other former Wilmington Trust executives are avoiding jail time fot the time being until their case is reviewed by an appeals court.
Some faculty echo Cox, and said Harra should have stepped down as soon as these charges were brought against him.
“I believed that Harra should have stepped down when he was indicted,” Dr. Jeffrey Mask said. “The indictment should have been enough to step down if one cared enough about the institution.”
Dr. Angela D’Antonio, who served as convener for faculty during the time Harra was indicted, said many faculty members talked about the indictment and expressed an overwhelming concern about his role at the College.
Eventually, these concerns led to a faculty resolution that asked President Clark to ask Hara to step down as Chair of the Board.
“In light of the federal criminal indictment of Robert Harra, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of Wesley College, and of the potential damage to the reputation of the College if he continues to serve in this capacity, we the Faculty believe it is in the best interest of the College that Mr. Harra relinquish his position as Chair of the Board,” the faculty resolution said. It passed Oct. 19, 2015.
Clark responded to the faculty resolution by saying that he spoke with senior members of the board and prominent people in the community. He said they didn’t feel that the situation would have a negative impact on the school. They also said that the crimes happened a while ago, and that he had done a lot for the community. And, he said, they empathized with his family.
”While I have empathy for Harra’s family, the appropriate and ethical thing for Harra to do is step down as Chair,” D’Antonio said.
Dr. Anthony Armstrong said he disagreed with some of the community members who gave their opinion of Harra after his indictment.
“I think there is a real class bias when important members of the community say that Robert Harra should be treated differently because he gave money to various causes,” Armstrong said. “These people would not say the same thing about someone who is poor. Poor people do not have anything to give but Harra had plenty.”
The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to keep Harra on the Board.
In the Code of Ethics for the Board, point number 13 states, “To refrain from actions and involvements that might prove embarrassing to the College and to resign if such actions or involvements develop.”
Armstrong said he believed the charges reflected poorly on the college.
“Unfortunately, the news stories almost always mentioned that he was on the Board of Trustees for Wesley College,” he said. “Reputation is very important to the college and it has an impact on the way donors, prospective students and other institutions view the college.”
Harra never stepped down form the Board. His term on the board ended Fall 2018, right before he was sentenced.
“I still believe that the appropriate and ethical thing to do would have been for Harra to step down,” D’Antonio said. “Now we not only have a member who was indicted but now we have a member who was convicted and this results in a larger stain on the college.”
Mask said he believes that sentencing raises an important issue.
“Now that Harra is sentenced, it calls a lot of decisions that Harra helped make into question,” he said.
The crimes committed by Harra affected many people in Delaware, especially the people who worked for Wilmington Trust.
“I know former employees at Wilmington Trust who despise Harra,” Armstrong said. “They feel that Harra stabbed them in the back. There is a real human cost of what he and the other officers of the bank did.”
Cox said he thinks students should care about this issue.
“A good majority of the student body probably isn’t aware of who the Board of Trustees member are, but having an untrustworthy member on the board still affects them,” Cox said. “Having someone who is deemed untrustworthy reflects poorly on the college itself and most students care about the college and the reputation that it has.”
Some students said they were surprised that something like this could ever happen at Wesley.
“It’s shocking that something like this has happened so close to home and at a small college,” sophomore David Wyatt said. “You hear scandals like this happening at bigger schools and institutions but never at small schools like Wesley.”