USF: Suspension for Okogbaa

Former director of the Institute on Black Life Geoffrey Okogbaa, who was accused of misusing more than $100,000 of University funds on personal items and trips, will be suspended without pay until the end of the upcoming fall semester.

After allegations of misallocation of funds – which the University claims cost it $104,902 in unanticipated expenses – former director of the USF’s Institute on Black Life Geoffrey Okogbaa faces suspension without pay, among other penalties.

In a letter sent Thursday from USF Vice Provost Dwayne Smith, the events are called “unfortunate,” marring an “otherwise positive and productive career.”Effective April 9, Okogbaa will face suspension through Dec. 21, the letter states.

He will also lose the ability to sign off on University financial matters for a period of five years and will be required to pay the University a total of $3,088 in funds it claims were misappropriated travel expenses.

The controversy surrounding Okogbaa – a fully tenured professor – began in September when a review by the Office of University Audit and Compliance reported Okogbaa to be “grossly negligent” in his duties as IBL director, accusing him of misallocating more than $175,000.Okogbaa purchased a 42-inch plasma screen television, 20 unusable desktop computers, six camcorders and two digital cameras with grant money, the audit stated. He was also accused of racking up more than $30,000 in travel expenses.

The case was referred to the State Attorney’s office, which, according to Okogbaa’s attorney Steven Wenzel, “found insufficient evidence on which to base a prosecution.”

The case was referred to an ad-hoc faculty review panel headed by faculty senate vice president John C. Ward. The panel sent its non-binding recommendation to Smith on Feb. 7.

The panel – which first met Nov. 17 – suggested a letter of reprimand be placed in Okogbaa’s personnel file to “encourage a more prudent level of acceptance and responsibility.”

The group also recommended that the University impose “some period of suspension,” but a consensus could not be reached within the committee as to whether the suspension should be a paid one. According to Smith, administrators eventually decided to suspend Okogbaa until the end of fall semester without pay.

“There wasn’t a consensus on it, but we did seek clarification on it and there was a clear majority who supported suspension without pay,” Smith said. “Just to clarify, the panel’s report was an advisory to the Provost – it was not binding, but it was followed pretty closely.”

The faculty review committee recommended that Okogbaa receive training in financial responsibility and suggested that he provided insufficient documentation to support some of his travel claims.

Okogbaa will be required to pay the University $888 for trips he took to Nebraska and Texas for which USF was billed. Administrators maintain there is insufficient evidence to prove the trips were University related.

He is also required to remit $2,200 for a trip to Africa. According to Smith, Okogbaa was paid by an outside organization for the trip but still used University funds to cover his travel expenses.

According to a letter sent by Wenzel to Smith on April 2, Wenzel suggested the year Okogbaa has been away from the academic community is suspension enough. Citing a grant Okogbaa secured in January for $1.6 million, Wenzel maintains Okogbaa will suffer as a researcher as a result of the suspension.

The letter also states Okogbaa is willing to pay for the Kansas and Texas trips, but maintains that the money allocated for the trip to Africa was fairly allocated.Though Okogbaa has the right to file a grievance, Wenzel said the decision to do so has not yet been made.

Okogbaa will not resume his duties as director of IBL, but he will be able to resume his duties as a professor and researcher after his suspension is over.

“From the University’s perspective, it is a regrettable situation and it is our wish that Dr. Okogbaa will come back from his suspension and essentially resume a very productive career,” Smith said.