The University has decided to repay the federal government nearly $700,000 after two employees embezzled federal grant money from the Center for Demographic Studies and its lead researcher, Kenneth Manton. The fact that the University lost track of so much money is inexcusable, and although the guilt surely lies with the two employees responsible for the theft, the lack of oversight of the Center for Demographic Studies by the University is also to blame.
Fortunately, the University removed Manton from direct supervision of administrative and financial matters and instituted changes in how the Center for Demographic Studies operates.
When a person handles millions of dollars, someone at the University needs to ensure that he uses the money correctly. This is especially true now, when Arts and Sciences is suffering a budget shortfall. For the past year, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe has been talking about "tough choices" that have to be made in order to keep costs and spending under control. However, it seems as if Arts and Sciences cannot even control the money that it currently has under its purview.
Some of the responsibility for this debacle lies with Chafe. Max Woodbury, a professor emeritus at the center, says that he voiced concerns about Manton and the center's operation in fall 2000, a full six months before the University discovered that Manton and the center had been swindled. Although Chafe says Woodbury's comments did not warrant an investigation, if administrators had looked into the center's operations when Woodbury complained instead of in April 2001, perhaps the impact of this theft could have been mitigated.
The essential problems lie in the lack of oversight that administrators have over center operations. Of course, principal investigators and centers must have some degree of freedom from the University in order to conduct their research. But this degree of freedom should not be a license for centers to run willy-nilly without any University supervision. In the aftermath of this scandal, the University clearly does not have enough supervision of centers and might be well served to conduct more frequent audits of their centers that often escape the overview of more clearly defined departmental budgets.
Administrators argue that this incident is isolated. That may be, but there is no way to tell for sure, since the University has not been forthcoming about the incident. To prevent incidents like this in the future, administrators should increase communication with its centers and researchers. One way the University can do that is by promoting an atmosphere where center employees feel comfortable going to senior administrators with complaints about the way their centers are being managed and feel that their concerns will be taken seriously.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.