NYU has had its fair share of high-profile staff members over the years. The list now includes Cheryl D. Mills, close friend and top adviser to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Recently, Mills’ career at NYU has received extensive media coverage due to its brief overlap with her role in the U.S. State Department. In 2009, Mills became Clinton’s chief of staff while working as a part-time employee at NYU for four months.
While working for NYU, Mills led negotiations with officials in Abu Dhabi regarding the construction of the university’s future portal campus. Mills concentrated on issues such as free speech for students, living arrangements for staff members of same-sex or unmarried couples and labor protection for the workers involved in the construction of the new buildings.
During this time, Mills disclosed that she was paid $198,000 from NYU, as well as an extra $330,000 in vacation and severance payments after she was officially taken off the university’s payroll. Her work in the State Department was unpaid, though she collected $60,000 from Clinton-affiliated political action committees.
In June, Washington Free Beacon reported that Mills held the dual positions, but the capacity in which she worked for NYU was not stated.
In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, Mills said the overlap of her two careers was not anticipated, as her plan was to help Clinton transition, to hire a new adviser for her and then to return to NYU.
“My typical paradigm is that I do believe in public service,” Mills said in the interview. “So for me, it wasn’t really about taking income from the government during a period where I believed I was going to go back [to NYU].”
NYU spokesperson John Beckman said there was no legal or ethical conflicts in Mills’ dual employment arrangement.
“After seven years of service to NYU, Cheryl Mills took a senior job at the State Department,” Beckman said in an email. “During an approximately four-month transitional period, she was unpaid by the State Department and continued to work on a part-time basis for NYU on the NYU Abu Dhabi project. She surfaced this matter for review by the appropriate offices at the State Department.”
LS freshman and Student Labor Action Movement member Lina Wu said Mills’ actions were legal, though there could have been a conflict of interest surrounding her dual employment situation.
“She was very close to crossing boundaries, since her association with NYU did fall within the private sector,” Wu said. “She could have used her public position to benefit her private interests with NYU, such as when she had Clinton come speak at NYU’s May 2009 Commencement Ceremony.”
The Washington Free Beacon also reported that many Republicans are also finding an ethical dilemma in Mills’ actions, as well as disapproving of the friendly relationship between Mills and Clinton. Both women are criticized for allowing a conflict of interest between a public role in the government and a private job, which largely involved work funded by a foreign government.
Although a dual employment situation like Mills’ is legal, it is rare at the chief of staff level. This position is typically part of Senior Executive Service, but Mills was assigned a lower federal rank for those initial four months, allowing her to keep her part-time position at NYU.
Email Carmen Russo at [email protected]