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Former Adelphi president Peter Diamandopoulos dies at 86

Former Adelphi University president Peter Diamandopoulos, on the

Former Adelphi University president Peter Diamandopoulos, on the Garden City campus in an undated photo, died on Wednesday, April 1, 2015, officials said. Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

Peter Diamandopoulos, the former president of Adelphi University who sought to turn the Garden City school into an elite institution before he was fired for lavish personal spending and conflict-of-interest allegations, died on April 1.

He was 86. His death was noted Tuesday in a brief statement on the university's website.

Diamandopoulos, of Manhattan, a Harvard University graduate, was president of Adelphi from 1985 to 1997 and set out to change the mission of the school to reflect his Ivy League experience.

"He was a very cultured person and he was very philosophical," said Sean Fanelli, retired president of Nassau Community College and current dean of Hofstra University's education school. "But his vision was not in line with the original mission of the school. He stressed the liberal arts, and the school had a national reputation for nursing and social work. I think that caused a lot of unrest, certainly among the faculty."

Diamandopoulos was the second-highest-paid college president in the country at the time, and was chided for his taste for expensive trips, accommodations and meals.

His 12-year tenure was marked by legal battles, bitterness over his salary and perquisites, charges of board mismanagement of funds and concerns about low student enrollment.

His peak salary plus benefits were $524,000 a year, Newsday reported then. Only then-Boston University president John R. Silber -- a member of the Adelphi board of trustees at the time who ultimately was ousted -- had a heftier salary package. Silber died in 2012.

"He was certainly an interesting man to know," former Stony Brook University president Shirley Strum Kenny said yesterday, adding she knew Diamandopoulos only through meetings of Long Island's university presidents. "He came in with some high expectations and had a lot of ambition and energy. And he could be very charming."

In February 1997, the state Board of Regents swept Diamandopoulos from power, along with 18 of the 19 members of the Garden City university's board of trustees.

Among the reasons for the dismissal of Diamandopoulos and the trustees were the president's salary and benefits, and persistent conflict-of-interest allegations between board members and the university.

The board chairwoman at the time, as well as other university officials, defended Diamandopoulos and challenged state authorities' criticisms.

After new board members were appointed, they fired Diamandopoulos.

In one seven-month period, he took three university-paid trips to Greece and Switzerland, according to a report by Newsday after his firing.

He and Silber once spent $455 on wine and Cognac at an upscale Manhattan club and charged it to Adelphi, Newsday reported at the time.

While Diamandopoulos was collecting his salary and benefits -- which included a $1.5 million Manhattan apartment and an $80,000 Mercedes-Benz -- enrollment at the university plunged, as did its prestige.

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