Faculty still upset over ELI firings

Nearly three months after three USF employees were fired following the discovery of $270,000 in student checks and invoices found inside an English Language Institute office, officials from the office of University Audit and Compliance have recovered $150,000 of the hidden funds and USF administrators are busy decentralizing cash collection units on campus.

But some faculty members are still upset over the terminations of former ELI Director Richard Schreck and Assistant Director for Curriculum and Instruction Barbara Smith-Palinkas.

The two ELI employees were fired Jan. 10 after reporting they found $30,000 in cash and more than $245,000 in uncashed checks hidden throughout filing cabinets and shelving units inside the office of former senior fiscal assistant Patricia Baker.

“I think there’s reason to believe that (Schreck and Smith-Palinkas) to some extent should be commended, because what they did was to bring this problem to our attention,” faculty union president Roy Weatherford said during Thursday’s BOT meeting. “There’s some evidence that they actually tried to address these problems before, but whoever made the prompt and decisive decision to fire them probably didn’t have this information and didn’t engage in consultation with (the faculty union) and didn’t take the trouble to find out the facts.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences John Skvoretz, who prepared the termination letters of Schreck and Smith-Palinkas, was unavailable for comment Sunday night due to involvement in business meetings.

BOT member Rhea Law declined to comment and said it would have been inappropriate for BOT members to comment on the situation until the facts of the ELI investigation were released.

UAC is still investigating the incident, but USF Media Relations Director Lara Wade said reports would be made public in the coming week.

Weatherford was also concerned the decision to terminate Schreck and Smith-Palinkas would have a serious effect on future faculty recruitment.

“The effect that it has on us is that it looks like the University had a problem, and it was part of a general problem,” Weatherford said. “They fired the two at the bottom, and the people at the top who are supposed to have general responsibility are going to get another big raise. So when we talk to our colleagues around the country, and when we go out to recruit, and when we try to get people to run the many more research projects and institutes that we’re going to develop over the next few decades and we say, ‘Would you come to the Univerisity of South Florida to run this project? And by the way, make sure you don’t discover any past wrongdoing or you’ll be fired for it,’ that’s not good.”

Although BOT Chairman Dick Beard said he was not involved in the firing process, he said employees are allowed to file grievances.

“I think the system that we operate under now from the standpoint of accounting is flawed a little bit,” Beard said. “And that needs to get fixed.”

Weatherford and BOT faculty representative Susan Greenbaum, who is also the Faculty Senate president, said more due process and consultation are needed in future cases of misconduct.

“We think it’s appropriate for faculty to be involved in a more structured way,” Weatherford said. “The point is that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) has the policy that serious punishment of academic employees should involve a peer-review process. People should be suspended without pay until the investigation is completed. I think what they did again was administer punishment first and ask questions later.”