Academian Authoritarian Update: Former Embezzling College Dean Utilized Students As Slaves
October 1st, 2010
By JANON FISHER and TIM PERONE
She was the dean of mean.
A disgraced former institute dean at St. John's University -- previously accused of embezzling more than a $1 million from the school -- also forced students to perform demeaning personal labor for her and her abusive son by threatening to take away their federally funded scholarships, authorities said yesterday.
Cecilia Chang, 57, ruled the Institute of Asian Studies at the Queens school with a dictator-like authority over her helpless students, making them cook her dinner, clean her home, wire money for her to use at Foxwoods Casino, and chauffeur her son to the airport at 3 a.m., according to a federal criminal complaint.
"I felt so bad when she yelled at me, especially when she didn't like my cleaning," said one of the students, who was afraid she would lose her scholarship if quoted by name.
Chang surrendered to the FBI yesterday on charges of forced labor and was hauled before a judge in Brooklyn federal court.
"Chang threatened the students and placed them in fear that if they refused to perform these personal services, they would lose their scholarships and be unable to attend St. John's," FBI Special Agent Kenneth Hosey said.
She had the power to award scholarships to as many as 15 students a year.
Chang allegedly had at least four students on a rotation since 2007 so she'd have a servant every day of the week.
The students also performed work at her office and her Jamaica Estates property. They shoveled snow, took out garbage, did laundry and prepared dinner for her, her son and her son's girlfriend.
But the free labor didn't make the Chang family grateful, since her son often called one student "stupid" and yelled and cursed at her if he wasn't satisfied with her cooking, court papers charged.
One of the students said she worked at Chang's house for 15 hours a week and stopped only three weeks ago -- even though Chang was fired from the university three months ago.
"I really didn't like working for her, but the scholarship was a lot of money," said the junior.
Chang is being held pending a bail hearing today after Magistrate Joan Azrack yesterday said the former dean's $1.7 million home and $850,000 university pension were not enough to ensure she would stay in the country.
Assistant US Attorney Charles Kleinberg told Azrack that Chang had wired $750,000 overseas and previously stated she was headed to Taiwan and wouldn't return.
Chang was arrested on Sept. 15 by the Queens DA on charges she used money she pilfered from St. John's to fund excursions to casinos and shopping sprees at Victoria's Secret.
She was out on $1 million bail for that case.
The university said that the students will be able to keep their scholarships.
Chang's lawyer, Ronald Rubenstein, said the tasks students performed were not out of line with most work-study programs.
"The federal government should dictate what sort of work they should do?" he asked outside the courtroom.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Harshbarger
Read more: NY Post