USF think tank faces scrutiny after discrepancies surface

An investigation by FOX 13 found discrepancies in multiple aspects of a USF think tank.

A USF think tank is under fire after a FOX 13 investigation revealed that it has more problems than meet the eye, including confusion about who the director is, an unclear mission statement and a lack of accountability over grant funding.

The USF Global Initiative for Civil Society and Conflict — formed in 2011 in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) — was the subject of an internal review last summer at the request of Eric Eisenberg, the dean of CAS.

The think tank’s mission “is to re-imagine civil society and address issues of political instability in a globalizing world,” according to its now unavailable website.

USF spokesman Adam Freeman said internal discussions about whether or not the Global Initiative will continue. He also said no one is available for comment at this time.

“A number of the allegations, similar to those made in the Fox 13 story, were previously fully investigated by University Audit and Compliance (UAC) to determine if there were any violations of USF standards, regulations and policies,” Freeman said. “All of the allegations were returned by UAC as unsubstantiated.

“Furthermore, the productivity and long-term viability of the Global Initiative has been under review by the leadership of the College of Arts and Sciences for a number of months to determine whether this is an effort worth continuing, and if so, under what future funding sources and structure.”

The internal review said that there were multiple problems including “very little face-to-face time between Director and staff,” “lack of clarity on roles and expectations,” “staff confusion on who is the ‘Director,’” and no program manager or financial officer, according to the review.

The review also found issues in communications and marketing related to no unified image and a hard to use website. For the strategic vision, mission and plan, the review said the vision and mission were not clearly defined.

It also found a “lack of organizational focus and direction,” “no measureable goals or objectives established,” and a “lack of assessment and evaluation tool for projects,” among other issues.

FOX 13 found that promotional material for the Global Initiative was out of date and misleading, with one photo of supposed student interns found on a promotional brochure on the CAS website as a group of paid faculty members.

The investigation also found that the eight partnerships the Global Initiative boasts may not be as they seem. FOX 13 reached out to the eight institutions and two got back to them.

One, the Center for the Study of Democratic Citizenship at McGill University in Canada, said the partnership was simply an idea and never actually came to fruition, as Dietlind Stolle of the institution told FOX 13. The other, the University of Sheffield, said outright there was no partnership in place, as told to FOX 13 by Nicola Phillips with the UK institution.

When it came to the initiative’s financial situation, the review reported that, among other issues, there was a “lack of transparency regarding funding sources including submitted and awarded proposals,” that the financial structure had no clear definition and that grant funds were “not being spent and/or tracked appropriately.”

The Global Initiative is primarily funded by grants, according to Freeman. These grants include $1.2 million from the Office of Scientific Research of the U.S. Air Force, $765,000 from the federal government and $473,000 from the Department of Defense funded Minerva Institute, Freeman said. 

The initiative receives about $250,000-$300,000 annually from the state government, which Freeman said covers operating costs and the $155,000 a year salary of the initiative’s director, David Jacobson.

The information related to grants is limited for public release under Florida Statute 1004.22. Freeman did provide a basic outline of what the grants funded. 

The $1.2 million grant went to research on Al-Qaeda and Islamist Militant Influences on Tribal Dynamic: The Northern Mali and Northeastern Nigeria Regions. The total amount of funding was $1,286, 171 and came from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

The initial $765,000 from the federal government funded the Critical Languages Project, specifically Cultural Learning Objects in Four Languages. The funding came from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center and amounted to $4,400,000.