State Attorney General Maura Healey’s office sent a strongly worded letter Wednesday to the leaders of Suffolk University, criticizing the college for a number of lapses on the part of its board.
The 14-page letter is the culmination of a probe Healey’s office launched in February, during the height of turmoil at the school after several trustees attempted to oust Suffolk President Margaret McKenna.
An inquiry by the AG’s Public Charities division, which oversees non-profit organizations, raised serious concerns about poor communication between trustees and McKenna, cited a failure by the board to implement good governance practices, and questioned actions of some trustees.
“We believe that the board’s failure to timely implement good governance reforms, including the adoption of new bylaws and other changes called for by the university’s accreditors two years ago, placed the school in a difficult position,” the letter said.
The letter said Suffolk has lacked a clear and balanced division of authority between the board and the president and central administration that caused the university to struggle to implement plans to strengthen the college.
The inquiry did not conclude that board members breached their fiduciary duties to Suffolk, but strongly advised the board and president to adhere to provisions of a resolution passed in February wherein the board agreed to reform its practices in exchange for a promise from McKenna to step down by the fall of 2017.
In all, the letter contains seven findings as well as eleven expectations of what the university should do to reform its practices.
The letter said the board and president have promised to improve governance practices and communication among the board and administration.
In 2014, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in 2014 found that Suffolk’s bylaws were severely out of date, and recommended they be rewritten to outline clear lines of authority and best practices to govern the private university.
Suffolk’s board passed new bylaws in April that would limit trustees to serving two five-year terms, and requires them to leave the board for at least one year before returning.
The ruling was announced at the end of a tumultuous semester at the downtown college.
Earlier this year, Suffolk found itself in the middle of a painful public debacle when some of its board members tried to oust McKenna after seven months on the job.
The effort backfired as students and faculty rallied around McKenna and she struck a deal with the board to stay into next year.