ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Four administrators at the University of Central Florida have been terminated, days after the launch of a probe by state lawmakers into the school’s improper use of operating funds to construct a major campus building.
The misuse of the money was first identified by the state auditor general in August and became an issue for the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system. It prompted UCF to hire an Atlanta law firm to investigate the issue. A final report was released on Thursday.
"I read the report carefully. What I saw was a broken culture in one of our areas where UCF’s core values were not embraced," read a statement from UCF President Dale Whittaker. "Because this is a matter of culture — and not a singular problem — our solutions have to be comprehensive and reaffirm our values."
Preliminary findings by Florida House staff members concluded that UCF “engaged in a multi-year strategy to set apart and expend $84.7 million” in operating funds for construction projects in violation of state budget policy.
The $84.7 million included $38.2 million for Colbourn Hall and $13.8 million for another eight construction projects. Also, it included $32.7 million in operating funds that were transferred for potential construction projects but not used.
The funds used to construct Trevor Colbourn Hall violated state policy, which restricts the money to activities like instruction, research, libraries, student services or maintenance.
"We know inappropriate spending was not isolated to Trevor Colbourn Hall. In all, construction projects totaling about $85 million were either built, or planned to be built, with inappropriate funds," said Whittaker. "This is about more than one building. We understand the scope of what happened, we accept responsibility for it … and, frankly, we’re embarrassed by it."
Lawmakers contend that school administrators appear to have “misrepresented” the operating funds in annual reports to the Board of Governors on the use of so-called “carryover” funds, which represent funds unspent in a prior year but available for use in a current budget year. Whittaker, the school’s former provost, and former President John Hitt, who retired in July, signed those reports.
In addition to the terminations, Whittaker on Friday announced the creation of a new position of chief accountability officer, who will oversee the university's Compliance, Ethics and Risk Office. He also named retired Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, a decorated Army veteran and former superintendent for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to lead change in the university's administration and finance operations.
The Board of Governors is expected to review the issue again at its Jan. 30 meeting at Florida International University. The consequences of the legislative investigation will have an impact on UCF, the state’s largest public university, but it could also raise questions and change spending policies for all 12 state universities.
Some information taken from The News Service of Florida and the Associated Press.