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Hidden funds lead to staff dismissals

The University took swift action against three high-ranking officials in the English Language Institute after more than $275,000 in University assets was found in the office of a staff member during the holiday break.

Colleagues of Patricia Baker, former senior fiscal assistant for the English Language Institute, found $32,000 in cash and $243,000 in student checks in her office, according to University Spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon.

According to dismissal notices, former ELI Director Richard Schreck and former Assistant Director for Curriculum and Instruction Barbara Smith-Palinkas were fired on Tuesday due to “lack of attention to (their) management responsibilities.”

Baker sat on numerous receipts and payroll checks as well as student health insurance premiums tendered by international students. Numerous receipts from as far back as 1992 had been concealed in various filing cabinets in Baker’s office on the fourth floor of Cooper Hall.

On Wednesday, Baker was dismissed from the University.

“This was basically a problem of undeposited cash and checks,” USF Chief Financial Officer Carl Carlucci said.

A majority of the checks were dated prior to 2005 and thus can not be deposited.

“The Institute lost a large amount of money that they will not be getting back,” Carlyon said.

According to Baker’s notice of dismissal, the lack of care shown in the financial management of the institute will amount to at least $133,647 in losses.

Students whose checks were dated after 2005 will be notified, Carlyon said.

“We have their names and everything on these checks, so we’re going to take their latest address on file to get in touch with them,” she said.In the meantime, the office of University Audit and Compliance is investigating the situation.

“So far, all indications are that there was no criminal activity,” Vice Provost for Faculty and Program Development Dwayne Smith said. “The people most immediately involved in the situation were removed.”

According to a source close to the ELI, the two supervisors fired were the people who initially discovered and reported the money. The source said that nobody near the ELI would have ever suspected Baker of any misdeed and that the supervisors were unaware of the wrongdoing.

The incident comes two months after a report issued by the state auditor cited a variety of fiscal deficiencies found in the University’s monetary policies. The official audit summary, in reference to USF as a whole, said controls over petty cash funds were in need of improvement and that bank account reconciliations were not always timely prepared and approved by supervisory personnel.

In an e-mail circulated to faculty and staff on Thursday, Provost Renu Khator addressed the issue and said the University had begun working toward centralizing over 170 cash collection units around the University.

According to Carlucci, these collection units were created out of convenience so students would not have to make their deposits at one location.

“Clearly this was one where the people didn’t supervise it right,” Carlucci said. “We are now shutting down these cash operations,” Carlucci said.

In addition, the University is encouraging supervisors to take a look at their books and retrain their staff.

“They are seriously trying to put out the message to everyone that this is unacceptable behavior and the University will not tolerate this kind of behavior,” Carlyon said.

Associate professor of world languages Wei Zhu has been appointed as the acting director of the ELI.