Uncover entire picture of alleged breach of trust case at Nihon University

REUTERS/Toru Hanai AUNIV
School seal of Nihon University is pictured in Tokyo, Japan July 24, 2016.

Suspicions have surfaced that funds were being illegally spent at a university with the largest number of students in Japan. It is essential to thoroughly investigate the incident.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has arrested a member of Nihon University’s executive board and another man on suspicion of breach of trust over a project to rebuild Itabashi Hospital affiliated with the university. They are suspected of causing financial damage totaling ¥220 million by making the university pay for something it was not meant to pay for.

A subsidiary of the university, Nihon University Enterprise Co., at which the arrested university executive board member concurrently serves as a board director, was in charge of selecting a design firm for rebuilding the hospital. According to sources, there is a possibility that the funds were transferred from the design firm to another company, and that some of the money was sent to the arrested board member.

If this is true, it is a serious matter. The special investigation squad needs to clarify the details of the case.

Nihon University Enterprise was established as a wholly owned unit of the university. Past board members of the university have served as board directors of the subsidiary. For that reason, Nihon University Enterprise may have been put in a situation in which it was difficult for its oversight function to work, making it easy for irregularities to be overlooked.

Future investigations will also focus on whether this is the only irregularity involving funds, and whether other people linked to Nihon University are involved.

With more than about 70,000 enrolled students, Nihon University has produced more than one million alumni in various fields. It has many affiliated high schools and junior high schools. The university’s leadership should be aware of their responsibility for damaging the image of this historical institution as a result of this incident.

It is extremely regrettable that a crime is suspected at an institution that is responsible for the education of students. Universities receive tax incentives and are provided with large subsidies by the central government. It goes without saying that transparency in their management is required.

In the past, Nihon University has conducted an internal investigation into a problem regarding opaque funding for a construction project. At the time, as the investigation was suspended midway through, the university failed to display its ability to reform itself.

A third-party panel pointed out the lack of governance by the university’s leadership over a dangerous tackle by a player in the university’s American football club that resulted in a serious injury to an opponent during a game in 2018.

In addition to the prosecution’s investigation, Nihon University should conduct a third-party investigation to find out the facts and make them public to restore trust.

The arrested university board member is believed to be the closest aide to Nihon University Chairman Hidetoshi Tanaka. Prosecutors have also searched Tanaka’s house several times.

Tanaka failed to appear in public and fulfill his accountability over past scandals. He must provide a thorough explanation in his own words.

Ahead of next year’s entrance exam season, many applicants may be worried about the scandal. The university must not forget that many current students and alumni are also closely watching the development of the incident.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 8, 2021.