Friday, June 27, 2008

Felner Probe Widens, UW-Parkside Search Process Questioned

Criminal investigation could involve
the purchase of illegal goods

The Felner investigation continues with a few new tid bits.

Yesterday, The Kenosha News reported,

The criminal investigation of Felner reportedly involves allegations of fraud and the mishandling of large sums of grant money. The Kenosha News has learned that it might also include the purchase of illegal goods.

...[U of L] spokesman John Drees...said the criminal investigation was initiated from someone at the university, and the campus police and staff were cooperating with authorities. He said several people had been interviewed by investigators.

...Felner was packing up his office Friday when federal agents swarmed in to seize computers and paperwork. Observers say investigators wouldn't let Felner out of their sight and even followed him to the men's room before escorting him from the building.

Jacob Payne, an editor for Page One Kentucky, a political news blog, said he spoke to several sources at the University of Louisville who said Felner argued with officials because he didn't want to return his computers to the school last week.

Yesterday, The Chronicle of Higher Education raised concerns over the search firm's (stop me if you've heard this before) lack of due diligence in selecting Felner. prominent search consultant said that Mr. Felner was considered a problem candidate and that a background check should have revealed several red flags in his past. Mr. Felner has been involved in at least one public flap involving research grants. In 2003 he resigned as dean of the University of Rhode Island's School of Education, blaming a state law for his departure. According to an account in The Providence Journal, Mr. Felner said he lost $15-million in research grants because of a cap on university staffing that prevented him from hiring enough employees to conduct the research.

EFL Associates, an executive-search firm with four regional offices, charged the system a $70,000 fee and expenses for the Parkside chancellor search. The firm's higher-education practice is "well entrenched" and was established 15 years ago, according to its president, Jason M. Meschke.

But while EFL employs three former college chiefs as consultants, it lists a relatively small number of higher-education searches on its Web site, including just two current and previous presidential searches, and is not among a "roundtable" of 30 respected executive-search firms identified by the American Council on Education.

In the case of a failed search, consultants typically conduct a second search without charging a fee. Mr. Meschke said his firm was contractually required to do so for the Parkside campus. "We are standing by the contract," he said.

The Kenoshia News reported (See sidebar),

Chris Evans, chairwoman of the UW-Parkside search committee and professor and chairwoman of the school’s Department of Geosciences, said Felner gave no indication that an investigation of this type could be coming...

But the search committee was aware of a no-confidence vote against Felner...

Evans said the committee became aware of that vote once the four finalists were announced. But Evans said that vote did not discourage support for Felner.

“We knew that there had been conflict, and it was only what you would expect from someone who was a determined change agent,” Evans said. “He never presented himself as uniformly popular. His references said that the faculty that objected to him were vocal, but they were definitely a minority. That didn’t cause us any alarm at all...

Apparently, Dr Evans doesn't understand the concept of a majority. The no-confidence vote was 27-24-2. She might want to study up on "confirmation bias" as well.

Now the Wisconsin system is re-examining the way it recruits, screens, and hires chancellors.

The system faced embarrassing headlines this year when a different search firm mistakenly released the name of a candidate for the chancellor position at its flagship Madison campus, even though the candidate had asked that his name be kept confidential.

This from the C-J:

Inquiry widens on dean's spending
Second school looks into use of grants

A federal investigation into allegations of mishandled funds at the University of Louisville has led another university to review grant expenditures made by the dean at the center of the investigation.

A spokeswoman at the University of Rhode Island, where Robert Felner worked from 1996 to 2003, confirmed yesterday the school is reviewing his grant expenditures while he was employed there.Felner was the director of URI's School of Education until he left in 2003 to become UofL's education dean, although he continued to serve on URI's National Center on Public Education and Social Policy until 2006.

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