Ex-Richmond v-c files complaint against charitable funder

Complaint to Charity Commission alleges that funding to university was suspended, but foundation chair rejects claims as ‘without merit’

January 22, 2020
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Balance check: a charity said claims it withheld funds from Richmond, the American International University in London and forced its head to resign were ‘without merit’

The former leader of a private UK university that could be forced to close has filed a formal complaint to the Charity Commission regarding the foundation that funds the institution.

Lawrence Abeln, former vice-chancellor of Richmond, the American International University in London, alleges that the charitable foundation suspended funding and that he was forced to resign for funding to be released. The chair of the foundation said it had written to the commission rebutting the allegations and said that the claims were “entirely without merit”.

Richmond, an institution founded in 1972 that has both UK and US degree-awarding powers, said earlier this month that it had “paused” recruitment for students scheduled to start in January. The university said it had been unable to “secure a long-term funding alternative” following the death of its founder, Sir Cyril Taylor, in 2018, although it later said that the foundation was “continuing to provide charitable donations for the university”.

Sir Cyril, an adviser to Conservative education secretaries and an education reformer, created the Cyril Taylor Charitable Foundation (CTCF), the registered UK charity that funds the university. The charity has investments worth £215 million, according to its 2018 accounts.

Sir Cyril also set up the for-profit, US-based American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), which has long owned the London properties that the university leases from it in Richmond and Kensington. On his death, Sir Cyril bequeathed ownership of the AIFS to the CTCF.

Dr Abeln, a former director of the MBA programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims in letters to the Charity Commission that the CTCF, while “set up…to support us as an educational institution for the long term is operating like a shell for a commercial company (AIFS) it wholly owns” and “lacks independence to fulfil its charitable duties”.

In a letter dated 2 December, he says that after Sir Cyril’s death, the CTCF “initially committed £27.5 million over five years to support the university”. However, “their approach to financial support changed this [2019-20] fiscal year”, he adds. Dr Abeln alleges that the charity “suspended funding for various conditions and employed delay[ing] tactics in refusing to make payments which has created a situation which has threatened the university’s solvency”.

In a subsequent letter dated 11 December, Dr Abeln alleges that he had been told on 6 December “that the chair of [the] CTCF charity demanded my ‘immediate resignation’ and would not sign off or release our charitable grant and other agreements between the charity (CTCF) and its subsidiary (AIFS) to RAUIL” unless he stepped down.

Dr Abeln writes that he resigned because refusing to do so would have meant Richmond facing “immediate closure due to no funds”.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “We have received concerns relating to the Cyril Taylor Charitable Foundation, which we are currently assessing.”

CTCF chair Stephen Rasch said the charity “has submitted a detailed response to the Charity Commission conclusively rebutting the allegations, which we believe to be entirely without merit.

“We feel it does not serve the university’s interests to engage in a public dispute with an ex-employee of the university while efforts are being made by alumni and management to find the resources necessary to secure the university’s future.

“We welcome any credible effort to ensure Richmond’s survival, provided any request for support from the charitable foundation fulfils our goal of providing a public benefit to the deserving underprivileged who would not otherwise have the cultural exchange opportunities our founder spent his life promoting.”

Phil Deans, acting president of Richmond, said the university was “enrolling new students for our fall 2020 intake”.

“CTCF is continuing to provide charitable donations for the university, fulfilling the legacy and wishes of Sir Cyril, and the university’s board is grateful for the charity’s ongoing support,” he added.


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