Thursday, July 17, 2008

33 Grievances = Excellence at U of L

University of Louisville President James Ramsey continues to astound when it comes to the Robert Felner investigation.

He's thinks it might be a good idea to boost oversight of grant funds at the school.


Well, the grant money brought to U of L by former Education Dean Robert Felner helped raise the school's ranking. That's good.

The only problem is that no one can seem to verify that the money actually did any good for kids: NOT Virginia Fox who was supposedly in charge of one group; NOT the Jefferson County Schools who's students were supposedly to benefit from some of the grant money; NOT the Kentucky Department of Education....

Under the present arrangement, a university's "ranking" apparently goes up when funds are received - regardless of whether the funds actually produce the intended good. Ramsey told the Courier-Journal, "The list of accomplishments are there."

Too bad nobody can back that up.

That's the real travesty here: Waste, fraud and abuse.

But Ramsey seems to be treating it as a public relations problem. Slap on a happy face and hold your breath while federal investigators chip away in the background.

While he's rethinking oversight, Ramsey might want to take a look at the culture of the university. How is it possible that 31 reports of abuses, largely dismissed by Provost Shirley Willihnganz, don't raise concerns? Is the grant guy always right and anyone who might challenge the money man always wrong? Maybe so, at least, in Ramsey's mind.

Ramsey told C-J the number of grievances "tells me (Felner) was bringing about change that needed to be made."


Was harassment lacking at Louisville before Felner?

Ironically, some of Felner's work was supposedly intended to improve the "personalization of school environments." There is no evidence at all that Felner was qualified to perform that kind of work.

To Willihnganz's credit, it was her long-overdue report to law enforcement officials that prompted the present investigation.

This from Mark Hebert at WHAS:

Ramsey tells Hebert he never saw an internal investigation report on Felner. And then says - no kidding - even good people get “a little weak...violating the law now and then.”

This from Nancy C. Rodriguez at the Courier-Journal:
U of L may revise grant review policy
Investigation of former dean prompts university's actions

Amid a federal investigation into allegations that a former education dean mishandled a $694,000 federal grant, the University of Louisville is reviewing whether it needs to change its policies for overseeing such funds, according to President James Ramsey.

"This situation was a little unusual" in that it involved a program directed by the dean, Robert Felner, who also was in charge of employees involved in the day-to-day administration of the grant, Ramsey said in an interview today.

The grant was supposed to be used to help schools boost student achievement on the No Child Left Behind tests, but state and local school officials said they never heard of the grant or the center that was supposed to be created with it. Felner, who headed the university's College of Education and Human Development, was the project manager for the grant.

Central oversight

Each college at the university has a person or small staff responsible for the administration of grants, but the university's Office of Grants Management has central oversight authority on all grants. The office signs off on equipment purchases, contracts, salaries and other expenses connected to grants and research. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the office received 806 new grants, university officials said. It also managed an unspecified number of existing grants. Felner managed the education grant, which was awarded to the UofL Research Foundation in 2005.

University e-mails show Felner discussed how the money would be used with staff in the grants-management office. The grant — which runs out July 31 — is no longer directed by Felner. As of June 26, all but about $96,000 of it had been spent, with the remainder under university control.

During today's interview, Ramsey said again that Felner improved the College of Education and Human Development following his arrival in 2003. He cited the college's rise in national rankings, an increase in grants and a stronger relationship with Jefferson County Public Schools.
"The list of accomplishments are there," Ramsey said.

But during Felner's tenure, there were 31 grievances and complaints filed against him by faculty and students in the college. They ranged from a sexual-harassment allegation to complaints of intimidation and challenges to annual reviews, dismissal of ideas and lack of speed in dealing with requests. The sexual-harassment and other complaints were found to be without merit, university documents show.

It is not clear from the documents if all the complaints were resolved.

In 2006 the faculty voted that it had no confidence in Felner. The vote was 27-24 against him, with two abstentions.

Grievances noted

A report by a university grievance officer in 2006 noted the increase in grievances at the College of Education, and said it had been recommended to Provost Shirley Willihnganz that "administrative mechanisms to restore morale, faculty governance, and collegial interaction there" needed to be established. Ramsey said the number of grievances "tells me (Felner) was bringing about change that needed to be made." ...
Over at Page One, Jake reminds readers,

Nancy Rodriguez again peddles misinformation that the federal investigation into Robert Felner and the University of Louisville is only about a $694,000 grant. So not true. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in the investigation.

Jake's been talking $47 million.

At the Bluegrass Policy blog Dick Innes correctly notes the obvious oversight problem.

While the investigation still continues in this case, it already looks like there couldn’t have been any sort of decent audit process in place to insure tax money was being properly spent. Individuals and agencies who were named as involved with the center supposedly created by this grant in fact have never even heard of it, something a reasonable audit should reveal.

It is hard to see this as anything less that a time bomb for U of L. This isn't going to end well. Why Ramsey doesn't get out in front of it and assure Kentuckians that the university won't stand for smoke and mirrors in lieu of real research and service is beyond me.

Meanwhile, fifty-ish folks claiming a connection to CEHD at U of L have commented at the end of one of Page One's posts. ...and they're naming names.

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