UB students and faculty react to Dennis Black and Andrea Costantino's guilty pleas
Alex Poland has lost confidence in UB and where his tuition dollars are being spent. Black and Costantino’s criminal actions have left him feeling worried and skeptical about how UB administration handles money.
UB students, faculty and alumni are feeling shocked and concerned after former Vice President Dennis Black and former director of Campus Living Andrea Costantino pleaded guilty to over $300,000 of grand larceny.
President Satish Tripathi released a statement Thursday afternoon addressing the charges and reaffirming the school’s commitment to integrity and best practices. UB leadership took swift action after an internal audit uncovered Black and Costantino’s financial abuses, Tripathi said in his email. Tripathi was not made available for direct comment.
“Tuition prices are rising and when incidents like this happen, you worry about where this money is actually going,” said Poland, a sophomore civil engineering major. “Hopefully this is a one-time thing but it’s hard not to feel skeptical after all this happened.”
UB Spokesperson John Della Contrada said in an email, “Students should draw confidence from the fact that administration initiated the audit and investigation that led to the discovery of these crimes.”
When asked to comment on Black’s actions and the mechanisms UB administration is taking, Scott Weber, vice president of Student Life directed The Spectrum to Della Contrada.
Arsh Issany, a sophomore biomedical sciences and psychology double major, feels “enraged” by Black’s actions.
"I find these actions absolutely atrocious, especially given our current financial situation, where UB was forced to cut four sports teams, and recently decided to stop the Stampede bus cycle after 1:30 a.m.,” Issany said. “I can't even see why a man who makes a six figure salary, would find the need to steal over $320,000 for useless and arbitrary purchases. He spent the money on baseball tickets and parties. That's as stupid as me robbing a bank, just to buy a Snickers.”
Darby Swab, a graduate student in arts management, feels UB should have had tighter security and control to prevent Dennis Black from stealing state funds.
“Students work [very hard] to come to college... It’s complete disregard to the position that you’re in,” Swab said of Black. “If you’re already making that much money you shouldn’t have to skim off the top.”
Martha McCluskey, UB law professor, feels transparency and strong internal controls should have been in place long before Black’s investigation began. Black and Costantino aren’t a “few bad actors,” but show systemic failures in UB’s transparency and oversight, she said.
Black was able to siphon off money from the Faculty-Student Association, a non-profit affiliate that controlled dining services and the bookstore. He had massive amounts of control over the FSA’s finances and was able to appoint six board members.
The UB Foundation (UBF) has seven auxiliary units, which McCluskey feels are ripe for future abuse if UB doesn’t improve transparency, McCluskey said.
“These affiliated, non-profit entities through which lots of UB resources are channeled, run the risk at the way they’re currently structured because they lack public oversight and public accountability. It’s not rocket science,” McCluskey said. “These non-profit affiliates have to begin to comply with state open government laws.”
Last year, UB’s Faculty Senate Chair Philip Glick requested a shared governance measure; wherein UBF would add faculty members, students and a professional staff member to their board. President Tripathi said it was beyond his scope as president to do this. The UBF board denied Glick’s request, deciding they were “transparent enough,” Tripathi said.
SA President Leslie Veloz is angered by Black and Costantino’s actions and feels there should be a stronger checks and balances system implemented amongst administration.
“Dennis Black and Andrea Costantino's deplorable actions have shaken our UB community to its core. The fact that their continuous infractions were able to go on for so long undetected just reinforces what students have been demanding from UB administrators for so long,” Veloz said. “We need there to be more transparency within our community and especially, how money collected from students is utilized. Students need to be at the forefront and a player of every major decision UB makes, including how money is spent…to make sure that history never repeats itself.”
Other members of SA found Black’s actions surprising and upsetting as well. Mike Brown, SA assembly speaker and student representative for the UB Council, said the news was shocking.
“I think that many people want to know what exactly happened and especially why they did what they did,” Brown said. “I don’t know the full picture of what the administration knew or the steps they took along the way, but it’s definitely good that Tripathi had the audit done and that this was brought to light.”
Bruce Jackson, an English and film professor, said he was surprised by Black’s actions, but proud of how the university responded.
“I would stress that Tripathi handled this with extreme speed and discretion, nothing got out until the whole thing was figured out so there wasn’t any wild speculation,” Jackson said. “I can’t imagine it being done better.”
Michael Turner, a freshman business administration major, felt uncomfortable upon learning about Black’s actions but feels he will regain trust in the university.
“I mean, [Black’s crime] definitely puts a little damper on [trusting the university]. But at the same time, I don’t really feel like I have an option not to. You guys are all here paying. You’re not just going to leave because of this.”
Other students agree with Turner that the actions of one or two university employees aren’t enough to completely change one’s opinion of the institution.
“[Black’s crime] doesn’t really change my view of UB,” said Allison Gomez, a freshman undecided major. “It’s just one sketchy person.”
Katrina Cropo, a 2015 UB alumna, said she was sad and disappointed to hear about Black and Costantino.
“[Black was] such a nice guy, and an administrator who seemed like he actually gave a crap about the students,” Cropo said. “And Andrea was a supporter of my UBREUSE project, I'm not even a student anymore and I feel betrayed.”
Jennifer Vaughan LeForce, a 1997 alumnus, said she feels Black’s actions are “extremely disappointing.”
“There is no gray area here, it’s a dangerous path when individuals feel they are beyond reproach,” LeForce said.
Sophomore business major Mirtolib Sunnatov attributed Black’s decade-long escape from the law to the size of the university, but he also feels this kind of misconduct of the administration brings suspicion to how our school is being run.
“For a university that makes a lot of money, for a vice president to steal that much, I wouldn’t be surprised that he didn’t get caught for such a long time,” Sunnatov said. “But it still says something. Like, if higher-ups are doing something like this, what else is going on?”
Students and faculty are eagerly waiting the ongoing investigation.
Black is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 10, 2018 and Andrea Costantino is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6, 2017.