Questionable spending by dental foundation

September 20, 2012 

Call it water under the bridge. But that’s only because it took three years – that would be three years too many – for the fund-raising foundation at the UNC School of Dentistry to release an embarrassing report about unauthorized travel expenses and lax oversight.

The N.C. Dental Foundation had insisted, in response to The N&O’s queries in recent weeks, that it was not a public entity and that the 2009 report by a Greensboro accounting firm was not a public record. That was a ludicrous argument on its face.

But now that UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp finally has intervened to have the report released, it becomes clearer why the foundation didn’t want these particular linens hung on the public clothesline.

The past travel practices of foundation officials became a matter of current interest because one of those officials, with the title of associate director, was Tami Hansbrough, mother of Tar Heels basketball star Tyler Hansbrough. She was hired in late 2008 (41 people applied, according to the report). Last year, she transferred to a job instigated by the university’s top fundraiser, vice chancellor Matt Kupec.

The two, who were in a relationship, traveled together multiple times at university expense without a clear business purpose. Kupec resigned after being questioned by Thorp, and Hansbrough also resigned – before Thorp, dogged by intertwined scandals involving academic fraud benefiting the athletics program, also announced his pending resignation.

The accountants identified a trip Hansbrough took to the 2009 NCAA tournament in Memphis, where Tyler was playing, as lacking proper documentation or prior approval. Eventually her expenses were approved on the basis of what she said were her fundraising activities. Meanwhile, however, other officials were spending foundation money for travel the accountants viewed as personal, or without proper justification. No wonder the executive director resigned.

The accountants noted a “perceived lack of support” from the dental school’s dean at the time when staffers flagged “excessive and questionable spending” at the foundation. That’s a disturbing twist. The public can only hope that since 2009, lessons have been learned, both at the dental school and elsewhere in the university where fundraising foundations operate.

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