University launches internal investigation

One week after a high-ranking administrator in the Division of Student Affairs released an e-mail accusing the department head of mismanaging funds, intimidating employees and hiring unqualified associates into created positions, officials have announced the University will look into the allegations with an internal audit.

A preliminary review of the Student Affairs head accused of impropriety – Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall – was conducted this week by the Office of Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Carlucci. It uncovered no evidence of financial misconduct, said USF spokesman Ken Gulette Wednesday.

Meningall requested the audit, which will be conducted by the University Office of Audit and Compliance (UAC), Gulette said.

"We take any and all allegations of misconduct very seriously," Gulette said in a written statement. "The investigation by the Office of University Audit & Compliance (UAC) will be handled appropriately and all issues raised will be thoroughly reviewed."

UAC is an independent organization within USF, which operates under the day-to-day oversight of Carlucci, who reports the office's findings to the president of the University directly, according to the office's charter.

Gulette said Carlucci, who conducted the preliminary review that found no impropriety, will have no part in the audit. Debbie Gula, the office's Executive Director, will report any findings directly to Trustee John Ramil, Gulette said.

In an e-mail sent Oct. 3 to 80 University officials including President Judy Genshaft, Associate VP of Student Affairs James Dragna, the department's highest-ranking employee below Meningall, alleged his boss had acted inappropriately and illegally. He stated Meningall had misallocated funds, excessively hired outside consultants, exhibited hostile behavior toward employees, improperly hired former associates to positions within Student Affairs and demonstrated gender and racial bias. Dragna alleged that more than $1.3 million was misspent.

Dragna, an outgoing employee hired by the University less than a year ago, was told by Meningall in July that his contract would not be renewed. Dragna said the decision came after Meningall learned he spoke with the Office of the President about the alleged misconduct. Meningall has declined to comment on why Dragna was dismissed, citing privacy laws covering personnel decisions.

Dragna's allegation that Meningall improperly hired acquaintances within Student Affairs stemmed from the appointment of two former co-workers from Austin Peay State University to positions she created within the department. Both were hired without search committees and both are installed in temporary positions. Meningall headed Student Affairs at Austin Peay before coming to USF.

Blanche Wilson, who worked at Austin Peay in Student Affairs, was appointed director of Sponsored Research and Grants at USF.

The department was created by Meningall to find grants and external foundations to fund projects in Student Affairs, Wilson said. It is a visiting position and doesn't require a search committee to fill, Meningall said.

According to Dragna, the position was created specifically to find grants, not write them.

"She was hired to identify grants," he said. "She identifies them and someone else writes them. She receives in excess of $80,000 plus benefits."

The University of Central Florida has a similar position in its division of Student Development and Enrollment Services. The post's responsibilities include researching and writing grants, strategic planning and institutional effectiveness. It pays $64,903 and was filled by a search committee, according to a spokesman for that university.

A similar position doesn't exist in the Division of Student Affairs at either the University of Florida or Florida State University, according to officials from both universities.

Beverly Sims, formerly Meningall's executive assistant at Austin Peay, was hired in 2006 to head the then-new First Generation Program. The post was funded by state and University funds and was created to assist students who were the first in their family to pursue higher education.

"We were looking for someone to temporarily pilot the program," Meningall said. "Her experience as executive assistant and director of the African American Cultural Center (at Austin Peay) made her qualified for the position."

When the program lost funding at the state level, Sims was moved to a position as Meningall's interim special assistant. The spot had recently become vacant with the resignation of her former assistant, Ben McCurry.

McCurry had received a superior evaluation and, according to Dragna, had been forced out of the position by Meningall's hostility.

Meningall denied she had forced McCurry out, saying he had left the position on his own accord and she was unsure of his motivation.

Joshua Neiderer can be reached at (813) 974-5190 or