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7 Investigates: Were NCCC culinary degrees awarded improperly?

Not all state procedures were followed
Posted at 6:53 PM, Apr 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-12 18:53:41-04

It's hard to keep track of all the scandals 7 Eyewitness News has uncovered at Niagara County Community College.

Sexual assault of a student.
Allegations of bid-rigging.
The FBI investigation of President James P. Klyczek's administration.

Now, after Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting, there are new questions about the awarding of degrees at the culinary institute.

Under questioning from board members Bonnie Sloma and Gina Virtuoso, the embattled Klyczek and his top vice presidents acknowledged that for the past five years, they have not followed all state procedures in awarding degrees to culinary students.

"Yes we made an error in letting students know," said vice president Luba Chliwniak. "And I would say for about four months, three months, we were making an error in telling that to students."

"And so students were mis-advised," Klyczek added at the meeting. "Well we have audited everything and have corrected it."

Because the Niagara Falls Culinary Institute is not an official "branch campus" as classified by the State Education Department, state laws require all culinary students to take at least one course on the main campus in Sanborn.

But course catalogs show that requirement was not emphasized until years after the culinary school opened.

As recently as last semester, former students were contacting 7 Eyewitness News saying that the school's changing requirements seemed "suspicious."

One former student said it "seemed like a scam" and others are petitioning Albany to get rid of the requirement, which Klyczek and others have called a "technicality."

"It's just a little disheartening to think that these students…can't trust us," said NCCC Trustee Gina Virtuoso.

Through a spokeswoman, Klyczek stressed that "the college assures all students that all degrees from NCCC are fully earned and appropriately awarded."

"They are fine," Klyczek told the trustees. "They graduated, they have the degree, they're done. What the risk is is that TAP (state loans) could be called back on that student for that semester."

That means the college could be on the hook to repay the state loans of those students - a figure administrators estimate would total $125,000.

A spokeswoman from the State Education Department stressed that because of recent media reports, the department is doing its due diligence and will not move forward on the application until its review is complete.

If you are a culinary student graduating in a few weeks, college officials say you will have no problem walking across the stage.

But some trustees say this is a problem that stretches back years -- and they question why they are only being informed of this now.