The University of South Florida boasts quality research programs and is seeking to up its national profile by joining the American Association of Universities, but its lofty aspirations are now being ill-served by the appearance of misconduct on the part of administrators. The list of egregious acts from the past few months supports this statement.
On Tuesday, The Tampa Tribune filed a lawsuit against USF alleging a failure to adhere to public records requests, which are required to be fulfilled within a certain time frame according to Florida’s Public Records law, commonly referred to as the Sunshine Law.
According to the suit, The Tampa Tribune made a request for public record documents pertaining to the identity and compensation of all tutors who had worked for the USF Athletic Department’s Academic Enrichment Center since the 2003-04 school year. Ten days after the initial request, USF provided a list of names to the Tribune, making no indication that the list was anything other than complete.
However, representatives from the Tribune claimed they had visited the USF Athletics building earlier and snapped pictures of a list of available tutors. Upon comparing the pictures to the list provided by the University, the Tampa Tribune determined that the two lists were entirely different.
Although the Oracle is not accusing USF of wrongdoing and is waiting for legal judgment to be made on the case, it remains that this is not the only time the forthrightness of the University has been questioned.
When VP of Student Affairs Jennifer Menningall was accused of financial mismanagement and employee intimidation, USF chose to audit the matter internally. The decision was a public display of USF’s lack of concern to seriously handle the charges by not bringing in a third party to investigate the allegations.
The internal audit revealed that several of the accusations made were either founded and a violation of University policy – or inconclusive – and that others were partially founded.
Despite the findings, USF trumpeted Menningall’s innocence in a mass e-mail. The e-mail was titled “Menningall Cleared of Wrongdoing – A University Statement,” and avoided all the negative components of the audit. There has been no punishment for Menningall.
Earlier, the Police Benevolent Association claimed that a public records request seeking a copy of private security firm AlliedBarton’s contract with the University went unfulfilled until being furnished by the St. Petersburg Times. The University has all but denied receiving the request.
In light of the recent allegations against a high-ranking administrator and the criticism USF faced regarding its investigation, transparency and honesty should now be USF’s top priority. If USF and its staffers have done no wrong, they should be more than willing to comply with rules that would simply provide the paperwork to prove it. The way the University can start is by clarifying or correcting any apparent breeches of public records law, and perhaps by reconsidering its approach to accusations of internal wrongdoing in the past.