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Audit questions UAlbany leaves, sabbaticals

Comptroller’s office says college wasted more than $1 million

Thursday, August 1, 2013
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— The University at Albany wasted more than a $1 million in taxpayer money on questionable sabbaticals and paid leaves, according to an audit released Wednesday by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

“UAlbany did not properly monitor sabbaticals of some employees and granted questionable leave for other employees, calling into question the benefit that taxpayers and the university have actually received from the use of paid leaves,” DiNapoli said in a news release.

Over a four-year period starting in 2007, UAlbany granted 196 sabbaticals and 43 other paid leaves at a cost of nearly $11 million. State auditors investigated a sample of 83 of these and found a list of discrepancies.

Sabbaticals are given to academic and administrative employees to improve their value to the university. Employees go out, for a time, at half-pay to devote themselves to gaining knowledge they could not gain under the time constraints of teaching. When they come back, programs and students are enriched by the new knowledge, at least in theory.

The university requires employees work for a year following a sabbatical and submit a report on their new learning. Auditors found these rules had been broken on several occasions.

The report details how one employee traveled to a foreign country while on sabbatical, only to find a full-time job there.

“The employee never returned to UAlbany,” the report read, “even though he received $38,082 in pay.”

UAlbany could have retrieved that money, but didn’t.

The report listed a number of other infractions. Two employees didn’t file the required professional reports following their sabbaticals, calling into question the $173,491 they received.

A handful of employees collected their full salaries, rather than half-pay, over their sabbaticals. According to the report, they were on separate, less-regulated paid leaves while also on sabbatical. One employee was even promised a full year of sabbatical at full pay as a hiring incentive.

In all, questionable sabbaticals and other leaves totaled more than $1 million, the audit said.

Despite the findings, Karl Luntta, a UAlbany spokesman, denied any wrongdoing on the part of the university.

“At no time was there an inappropriate use of funds,” he said by email. “The issues raised in the audit are primarily focused on [DiNapoli’s] view of the policies themselves and not UAlbany’s compliance with the policies.”

Even so, he said the administration has taken “steps to address certain minor compliance issues cited in the report, such as implementing a system to track the timely submission of the required reports on completion of a sabbatical leave.”

DiNapoli recommended UAlbany enforce existing leave regulations and recover improper payments. He also recommended the university develop and implement clear policies regarding other paid leaves.

Sabbaticals at UAlbany have attracted state attention in the past. In 1991, the comptroller’s office also recommended tighter regulation of leaves.

 
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