Organizations such as USF typically have auditing mechanisms to check for internal wrongdoing such as misspent money, mistreatment of employees or nepotism in hiring and firing practices.
Whether or not the independence of an auditing mechanism is actually compromised, even the appearance of that audit could undermine its credibility.
So may be the case with the University’s handling of an investigation of Vice President for Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall.
A University body – albeit one described as ‘independent’ – is handling the investigation. The appearance of a conflict of interest therefore exists, underscoring the need for a truly independent assessment not associated with the University.
As detailed in the Oracle, Meningall’s second-in-command, Senior Associate VP of Student Affairs James Dragna, sent an e-mail to about 80 individuals that accused Meningall of spending money on unneeded consultants and hiring unqualified friends for key positions.
Meningall told Dragna in July that Student Affairs would no longer employ him once his contract with USF expires at the end of the month. Dragna claimed Meningall made the decision after she learned he had taken his concerns about her management to the Office of President.
It is not the position of the Oracle to pass judgment on the veracity of Dragna’s claims. What is in the purview of the Oracle, however, is to point out that the body charged with investigating these allegations and reports is tied to the object of the investigation.
Although the University Audit & Compliance office, which is now investigating Meningall in detail, acts independently of Meningall and USF by reporting its findings directly to the Board of Trustees, USF should nevertheless seek out an investigative body that is not part of the University to carry out the investigation.
The Oracle is in no way accusing the University Audit & Compliance office of inefficacy or inefficiency, but is concerned with the appearance of impropriety that may be associated with this investigation.
The Oracle is simply pointing out that the best way to assure an accurate result – in no way affected by University politics and credible to those observing the investigation from the outside – is to seek out a third party auditor.
Since the appearance of a potential conflict of interest exists – however minimal or unlikely that potential may be – the University must do everything it can to downplay that potential for the sake of accountability and the reputation of the University.
The way the University can lessen if not entirely remove that potential is by seeking an auditor that holds no stake whatsoever in the University.