Student Affairs VP accused of mismanagement

A high-ranking administrator has accused Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall of mismanaging money, behaving in a hostile and physically abusive manner toward employees, discriminating against co-workers based on race and gender and appointing unqualified friends to important positions.

In an e-mail sent Wednesday to about 80 people, including University President Judy Genshaft and department heads, James Dragna – senior associate VP and second in command to Meningall in Student Affairs – stated he reported these and other potentially unethical and allegedly illegal actions to USF attorneys, the head of Human Resources and Genshaft's chief of staff in July.

Dragna, whose employment with the University runs through October, was told in July that his contract would not be renewed after less than a year on the job.

He supplied an outline but not specifics in the e-mail, and did not return repeated phone calls from the Oracle Wednesday.

Dragna has retained attorney Robert McKee, who represented former USF professor Sami Al-Arian during his grievance process with the University in 2001.

His e-mail detailed five counts of allegedly "inappropriate" decisions by Meningall that "negatively impacted many Student Affairs personnel, programs and services, and, in doing so, compromised the safety, health, and education of USF students." Dragna's allegations included "slapping one employee in a humiliating manner" and "grossly" mismanaging "university funds totaling over $750,000."

Meningall denied some of Dragna's allegations and refused to comment on others, citing privacy laws governing personnel matters.

"It's a personnel matter, it was a personnel matter and it's still a personnel matter," she said. "He's made it into something different … I've never misallocated funds and I've never hit anybody."

Meningall did not say whether she planned to file a libel lawsuit against Dragna, but Jody Adamchak, associate general counsel for the University, said legal action was possible.

"It's premature to say at this time, but don't count it out," she said. "Wait and see."

Other University officials declined to comment on any of the specifics in Dragna's e-mail.

"This isn't something we initiated," USF spokesman Ken Gullette said. "His non-reappointment is a personnel matter. It's very disappointing and unfortunate that he would take this action."

Gullette did not say whether an investigation into the allegations was planned.

"Human resources is looking into it and legal (counsel) has been involved," he said.

In the e-mail, Dragna said he had tried to handle his complaints internally before deciding to make them public and had not previously contacted or discussed the allegations with colleagues.

The inappropriate behaviors by Meningall outlined in the e-mail included the following:

• Using an undisclosed amount of Student Affairs funds for personal gain.

• Mismanaging $750,000 of University money in the '06-'07 fiscal year and diverting $600,000 "from critical health and safety university departments to offset unnecessary overspending."

• Paying more than $300,000 to unnecessary external consultants.

• Threatening at least three employees with "abusive verbal interactions coupled with threatening physical posturing" and "slapping one employee."

• Demonstrating "racial and gender bias, including demeaning references to males in both public and private conversations."

• Staffing Student Affairs with unqualified acquaintances in key administrative positions; in one instance, "fraudulently" overstating an employee's contributions to the University in order to renew his or her appointment.

After allegedly attempting to solve the problem by meeting with Meningall directly, Dragna sought the help of the president's office, meeting with Genshaft's Chief of Staff Cynthia Visot, and was invited to share his concerns with Genshaft in a private meeting, he said in the e-mail.

However, Genshaft changed her mind and directed him to the office of the General Counsel, Dragna said. Just a few days later, Dragna was notified that his contract would not be renewed, the e-mail stated.

"Meningall advised me that my appointment would not be renewed based solely, in her own words, 'on my conversation and meeting with 'Cindy' Visot (Office of the President)," he said in an e-mail.

Visot declined to comment on whether Genshaft had been told of Dragna's complaints. As of

3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Genshaft, who was preparing to deliver her Fall Address, had yet to be notified of the e-mail, Visot said.

"She's giving her speech today," she said. "Why would we want to do that?"

During the speech Genshaft commended Meningall's progress in Student Affairs.

"Thank you to vice president Meningall and to your leadership," she said. "You who have done so much to transform Student Affairs."

Dragna was hired last year from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He oversees five departments including Residence Services and made $135,000 a year plus benefits.