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USF works to remedy audit findings


As the new semester starts, some USF officials will be working to remedy some of the findings in the state of Florida’s biennial operational audit, which found USF in violation of several statutes.

These statutes include paying three administrators more than the permitted $200,000 in state funds, paying the fired football coach Skip Holtz $1.7 million more than allowed in severance pay, and collecting $3.8 million more than the allowed amount of distance learning course fees.

The audit, released last month, outlined eight recommendations for the university to come into compliance with state statutes, which the university responded it would work to adopt.

While state statutes forbid administrators who are not teaching faculty or medical school faculty or staff from receiving more than $200,000 in state funds, the audit’s review of 79 employees found that USF paid Provost Ralph Wilcox an excess of $154,660 in state funds, Sarasota-Manatee regional chancellor Arthur Guilford an excess of $38,494 and interim regional chancellor and Florida Institute of Oceanography an excess of $17,064, three employees who were coded as faculty.

In a response to the audit, USF stated “the university will improve the existing procedures to include employees coded in the faculty salary plan. Funds will be restored to appropriate state funds.”

Additionally, in a review of 219 employees paid $15.5 million in salaries from undergraduate tuition differential fees, which must be used for “certain specified purposes … which include increasing course offerings, improving graduation rates, increasing the percentage of undergraduate students who are taught by faculty, decreasing student-faculty ratios, providing salary increases for faculty who have a history of excellent teaching in undergraduate courses, improving the efficiency of the delivery of undergraduate education through academic advisement and counseling, and reducing the percentage of students who graduate with excess hours,” but “not be used to pay the salaries of graduate teaching assistants,” more than $95,000 of its use was questioned — $14,853 was spent on four graduate teaching assistant salaries and $80,623 was spent to fund “portions of 10 faculty members’ salaries related to graduate courses taught by the faculty members.”

“University personnel stated that the allocation errors were due to oversight and that these errors would be corrected during the 2013-14 fiscal year,” the audit stated.

In its written response, the university stated it has adopted a new policy effective at the beginning of 2014 that will “directly distribute compensation at each payroll interval to the appropriate funding source.”

Furthermore, the audit stated that the agreement reached to fire former football coach Skip Holtz before his contract expired, promised Holtz $1,733,716 — an amount more than the maximum 20 weeks of compensation state statutes surrounding severance pay allow for.

According to the audit, the university stated the pay was not severance pay, “but represented payments for damages as a result of the university terminating the agreement with the coach without cause.”

The audit also found that the $50 per-credit-hour distance learning course fee, which collected $19.9 million in fees over the last two years, but expenses for providing distance learning courses only totaled $16.1 million over the same period of time, thus violating state statutes that say the fees may not exceed additional costs of the services provided.

The audit report stated university management responded by saying “during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 fiscal years the university was not able to fully execute its distance learning spending plans due to multiple instances of leadership turnover, delayed key hiring and the ongoing refinement of its distance learning strategy. As a result, some of the planned spending of distance learning course fees was deferred, and the university reported surpluses of revenues over expenses.”

In October, USF announced it would be redesigning its former house for distance learning, University College, to “Innovative Education,” a model that will receive no funding from state-funded Education and General (E&G) revenues, but will sustain itself off cost-recovery and market-based business models.

This program would provide a $10,000 incentive for each face-to-face class converted to an online class — $5,000 to be provided up-front and $5,000 to be provided later, $300,000 in funding to colleges for teaching and graduate assistant support and a $425,000 one-time investment. Faculty who attend professional development seminars will receive $500 as compensation in order to provide the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accrediting body with documentation of the university’s online initiatives.

The audit stated that the university stated “new leadership was established to oversee and execute the expansion of distance learning courses and indicated that a business plan had been developed, which will result in a significant multi-year investment in distance learning courses, beginning with the 2013-14 fiscal year.”

USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman said university officials could not be reached for comment by the time of print due to the university’s closing.