NEWS

Cambridge College president may be forced to resign by trustees

Peter Reuell

Following a months long pattern of what one administrator alleged was ``audacious'' mismanagement and questionable financial dealings, Cambridge College trustees Friday will decide whether to fire school president Mahesh Sharma or allow him to resign.

Sharma, a Framingham resident who was named president of the college in 2003, has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 13, as administrators investigated claims he used money from school accounts for his nephew's college tuition, hired an administrator whose company already had a contract with the school and established a satellite campus in India without trustees' input.

Though she expects Friday's meeting to include the question of whether Sharma will remain at the school, Cambridge College founder, chancellor and interim CEO Eileen Brown said the question is largely a symbolic one.

``It's not smoke with no fire,'' she said. ``He has his own explanation for each of these things, and they don't really correspond to the facts on the ground. The way we feel is, it's been very hard to get to the truth.''

Sharma's attorney, Jack Merrill, however, denied the allegations.

``From Mr. Sharma's perspective, first and most importantly, he denies doing anything wrong,'' Merrill said Wednesday. ``He believes he's caught in a difficult situation for reasons that are beyond his control.

``He regrets the fact the board has taken the course it's taken, and he remains hopeful, and we're working with Cambridge College to try to get this resolved.''

Brown, however, said administrators had little choice but to contemplate severing ties with Sharma.

According to published reports, Sharma this summer named Nishikant Sonwalkar the college's vice president of distance learning.

The appointment, Brown said, appeared to be a clear conflict of interest.

Despite his position at the school, Sonwalkar was also the chairman of IDL Software, which had thousands of dollars in contracts with the school, and received a fee for every credit students completed online.

Administrators also have circumstantial evidence Sharma may have been an investor in IDL, Brown said, suggesting he may have benefited financially from the appointment.

While Sharma has said he dropped plans to open a Cambridge College campus in India, Brown said administrators have contacted programs in India, which identify themselves as Cambridge College locations.

``That would be a very serious problem, since we're not authorized to operate in India,'' she said. ``As much as we can find out about this, it's operating in India, and none of the money is (coming back to) the college.''

When she founded the college in 1971, Brown said, Sharma was a provost and among the first staff, so seeing him leave under a cloud of suspicion is bittersweet.

``Mostly, I feel very sad,'' Brown said. ``I feel sad for him. I feel very sad for the college ... but I'm eager to get this behind us and go on to the future.''

Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428, or at preuell@cnc.com.

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