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Audit report states university violated Florida law

USF has been cited for being in conflict with Florida state law on multiple accounts, according to an audit released by the Florida auditor general.

One such case is that of former USF athletic director Doug Woolard, who was paid $610,927 in July of 2014. The total came out to $415,169 more than the 20-week legal limit in his severance pay. The total is a combination of $510,927 in annual compensation and $100,000 in supplemental compensation.

Any severance pay beyond 20 weeks is prohibited by Florida state law. This applies to any unit of government, including public universities. 

Woolard was not the only former employee that USF paid over the legal limit in severance. Former assistant football coach Paul Wulff received $211,494 in excess of 20 weeks of his annual pay.

USF has denied the payments were against the law, according to the audit. The university considered the payments in accordance with liquidated damages to reputation and the ability to be hired in the future that may have occurred upon their termination.

The state, as written in the audit by Florida Auditor General Sherrill Norman, does not find USF’s defense satisfactory.

“Although the University did not consider these payments to be severance pay, the payment amounts were based on salaries and were provided to employees whose employment had recently been terminated,” Norman wrote in the report. “Therefore, as the payments exceeded 20 weeks of compensation, the payments appear contrary to State law.”

Woolard’s removal from USF in 2014 came at a time where performance of the football and men’s basketball teams was less than satisfactory, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

Other points raised in the audit included a concern over a lack of background checks. Of 1,012 employee positions requiring a Level Two background check, 113 employees in these positions did not receive that level two background check. 

The lack of checks was linked to understaffing and a high turnover rate in USF’s Human Resources department. In addition to this, four positions dealing with sensitive duties at the university were not identified as requiring a Level Two background check and, therefore, did not receive them.

These four positions, as identified in the audit, were the university registrar, assistant director of the controller’s office, vice president of financial aid and the associate director of financial aid. USF said these were overlooked because the identification process was done at the departmental level.

In other cases, records of Level Two documentation could not be located by the university, was never completed, or the employees worked less than 10 hours a week and were considered exempt by the university. 

State law provides that only those volunteers providing assistance in intermittent periods for less than 10 hours per month are exempt from these checks.

The university was also flagged for inappropriate classification of students from Latin American and Caribbean countries receiving state or federal scholarships as Florida residents for tuition purposes. Florida state law requires this resident classification for students who meet these qualifications.

During fiscal year 2014-15, 338 students received this classification from USF. Upon review by the Florida Auditor General, it was found that 272 of 338 students receiving this classification were not receiving state of federal scholarships but were receiving scholarships from USF.

The classification based on these USF scholarships justified through reasoning by university personnel that state universities are part of the state government and that “funds paid from State-appropriated educational and general funds, the University’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, or student fees should be considered State scholarships,” as reported in the audit.

This method of classification would have lost USF $2.9 million in student fee revenue had the students been classified as non-residents. The audit recommended “the University should seek guidance from the Board of Governors as to whether this practice is allowable under State law.”

Two final points mentioned in the audit related to Information Technology (IT) practices at the university concerning access controls and security controls. Seven different people in data management at USF had access privileges, including the ability to change rates of pay and add and update employee records and information, that the audit deemed inappropriate. The audit called for a separation of duties to remove such privileges.