University hiring, ethics conflicts a national issue

Government jobs should be filled based on qualifications, not bloodline, according to longstanding anti-nepotism policies at public agencies.

But the situation is murkier for private institutions, which aren't constrained by state ethics rules because they don't rely on government funding.

One of Wilmington University's strengths, according to President Jack Varsalona, is that its business model isn't predicated on wild swings in government grants, rather on steadily increasing tuition dollars. WilmU students received $12.6 million in federally funded scholarships in the most recent fiscal year, according to a university spokesman. The state Department of Education also gave WilmU a $68,000 grant to develop a data collection and tracking system in response to new state guidelines for teacher preparation programs. Both are a drop in the bucket compared with WilmU's overall budget of more than $115 million.
Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College, by contrast, receive more than a third of their budgets from the state; the state similarly subsidizes 12 percent of the University of Delaware's annual budget.

Statewide, several universities have adopted anti-nepotism and conflict-of-interest policies that focus on proper disclosure and recusing oneself from making hiring or promotion decisions for immediate family.

The News Journal reviewed annual Internal Revenue Service filings for every college and university in the state for the last three years. (Widener University was excluded because its main campus is located in Chester, Pennsylvania).

Records show that UD was the only other institution apart from WilmU to disclose family relationships among employees and contracts with companies associated with university leaders to the IRS. UD employs spouses of four university employees and has awarded contracts to companies associated with former President Patrick Harker and Trustee James Borel, a retired DuPont executive vice president. UD has not yet filed its Form 990 for the most recent fiscal year, a university spokeswoman said.

UD's family tree includes Timothy Targett, a professor in UD's College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. Targett's wife, Nancy, former acting president of UD who left the university last year to take a job in New Hampshire, is a former dean of the college where her husband works. Assistant English professor Phillip Mink is married to English professor Ann Ardis, who also serves as senior vice provost for graduate and professional education.

Citing personnel privacy, UD spokeswoman Andrea Boyle Tippett declined to release the employees' dates of hire and names of their direct supervisors. She provided The News Journal with a copy of UD's policy on family employment, which prohibits employees from supervising, evaluating or recommending immediate family members. When relatives work in the same unit and one oversees that unit, a third person is selected to supervise the family member with junior status, according to the policy. Trustees, by contrast, aren't governed by a specific anti-nepotism policy, Tippett said.

IRS records show that in fiscal year 2014, DuPont Co. received nearly $183,000 from the university (while Borel was still a DuPont executive), to complete agricultural and health research under outside grants. DuPont also gave the university $35,000 in research grants that year.

In a separate transaction, UD gave $1.7 million in utility payments to PEPCO Holdings Inc., where Harker served on the board. Harker also was a board member of Decision Lens Inc., an Arlington, Virginia, computer software firm that received a $140,000 university contract for information technology services.

In both cases, contract amounts were small enough that they were handled by individual departments and did not require the approval of Harker or the trustees, Tippett said.

As a quasi-public agency, UD is exempt from state contracting rules that require competitive bidding, according to Deborah Moreau, counsel for Delaware's Public Integrity Commission.

The last time the state intervened in a potential ethics conflict with a university was in 2001, Moreau said. Back then, the Public Integrity Commission granted a waiver so that three members of the state Developmental Disabilities Council could be paid under a mini-grant with UD's Center for Disabilities Studies. One of the Council members, Theda Ellis, also worked for the UD Center. Ellis wrote the state grant proposal, recommending that UD contract with two of her colleagues on the council. The Public Integrity Commission agreed, but mandated that all three council members recuse themselves from making decisions on the contract and reviewing grant disbursements.

Government agencies are routinely held to higher ethical standards than private institutions, Moreau said. Former Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams, for instance, encountered backlash after he tapped the wife of his cousin, state Rep. Charles Potter Jr., to serve as his highest-paid adviser on his transition team. Williams also hired Velda Jones-Potter's son, Brandon, who became a permanent employee.

Similarly, nepotism accusations have followed President Donald Trump, who uses his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as advisers.

Across the country, both public and private colleges and universities have been punished for cozy relationships among university presidents, trustees and their relatives on the payroll. Among the examples:

• Former Adelphi University President Peter Diamondopoulos was ousted in 1997 after the New York State Board of Regents and the state attorney general determined that his $837,000 compensation package was inflated by a Mercedes, a $1.3 million Manhattan condominium (in addition to his campus residence) and $4,000 in holiday tips to staffers at his apartment building. The state attorney general also found that the trustees' chairwoman who set Diamondopoulos' compensation ran an insurance business that benefited from university contracts. In the end, 18 of 19 Adelphi trustees were fired for neglect of duty and misconduct. Diamondopoulos later sued Adelphi and recouped $1.4 million in a settlement.

• In 2013, an Illinois watchdog group found that at least seven relatives of board members were hired by South Holland Community College over the years, collectively drawing pay of about $340,000 annually. The group also documented four instances in which board members voted to hire their family members.

• One year later, trustees for Luna Community College in New Mexico voted to exempt themselves from the college's anti-nepotism policy, which prohibited the hiring of relatives of current board members. Later, the trustees decided to extend the exemption to the university president, according to local media reports. An audit by the state Higher Education Department revealed multiple examples of relatives of the president and trustees receiving jobs, promotions and pay hikes. Following the report, the trustees reverted to their original anti-nepotism policy.

• In 2015, the former president of Winthrop University in South Carolina agreed to pay a $4,000 ethics violation for setting up a job for her husband at a public college, according to local media reports. Jamie Comstock Williamson admitted to unintentionally violating state ethics laws, which prevents public employees from using their positions to benefit family members. She was fired after less than a year on the job.
Delaware College of Art and Design:

Enrollment: 156

Total budget: $6.5 million (Fiscal 2015 expenses as reported to the IRS; a DCAD spokeswoman would not disclose the college's current budget).

Annual tuition and fees: $24,830

President's compensation: $180,669 (Fiscal 2015 numbers for President Stuart Baron; a DCAD spokeswoman would not disclose Baron's current compensation).

Number of administrators/faculty earning at least $250,000 a year: 0

Delaware State University

Enrollment: 4,600

Total budget: $118.6 million (30 percent of which is covered by the state)

Annual tuition and fees: In-state, $7,532; out-of-state, $16,138

President's compensation: $469,833 (Fiscal 2015 numbers for President Harry Williams; a DSU spokeswoman would not disclose Williams' current compensation).

Number of administrators/faculty earning at least $250,000 a year: 3 (fiscal 2015)

Delaware Technical Community College

Enrollment: 35,008

Total budget: $190 million (42 percent of which is covered by the state)

Annual tuition and fees: $4,533

President's compensation: $247,193

Number of administrators/faculty earning at least $250,000 a year: 0

Goldey-Beacom College

Enrollment: 2,605

Total budget: $32.4 million

Annual tuition and fees: $9,900

President's salary: $633,781 (Fiscal 2015 numbers for then-president-elect Gary Wirt. Former college President Mohammad Ilyas earned nearly $1 million in retirement bonuses in fiscal 2015, bringing his total compensation that year to nearly $1.5 million).

Number of senior administrators earning at least $250,000 a year: 3 (fiscal 2015)
University of Delaware

Enrollment: 23,009

Total budget: $964.8 million (12 percent of which is covered by the state)

Annual tuition and fees: In-state, $12,830; out-of-state, $32,3250

President's compensation: $950,916 (Fiscal 2015 numbers for former President Patrick Harker; a UD spokeswoman would not disclose President Dennis Assanis' current compensation).

Number of administrators/faculty earning at least $250,000 a year: 28 (fiscal 2015)

Wesley College

Enrollment: 1,510

Total budget: $49.2  million (Fiscal 2015 expenses as reported to the IRS; a Wesley spokeswoman would not disclose the college's current budget).

Annual tuition and fees: $25,646

President's compensation: $303,206 (Fiscal 2015 numbers for former president William Johnston; a Wesley spokeswoman would not disclose President Robert E. Clark II's current compensation).

Number of administrators/faculty earning at least 250,000 a year: 1 (fiscal 2015)

Wilmington University

Enrollment: 21,132

Total budget: $115.4 million  

Annual tuition and fees: $10,670

President's compensation: $1 million (President Jack Varsalona earned $5.4 million in fiscal 2015, inflated by a retirement and retention plan payout)

Number of administrators/faculty earning at least $250,000 a year: 8

 

By: Margie Fishman , The News Journal

Source: delawareonline.com