Fired St. Augustine's VP says dismissal is retaliation for reporting mismanagement

jstancill@newsobserver.comApril 3, 2014 

— A vice president of St. Augustine’s University says she was fired Thursday by President Dianne Boardley Suber in retaliation for giving information to the board about management issues.

Angela Haynes, vice president of business and finance, said Suber called her into the president’s office Thursday afternoon, ostensibly to talk about insurance. Then Suber fired her, she said.

“She said she wanted to find someone who was more experienced who would work with her,” Haynes said.

Haynes, 49, has worked at St. Aug’s since 2006 and in the finance office since 2009. She is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.

Last week, she said, she gave the board emails and other documents that highlighted various instances of mismanagement, including a failure to cut expenses during a budget crisis.

“I’m the one who submitted the packet to the board about all the stuff going on there that was not right,” Haynes said.

Late Thursday, Suber issued a statement saying she had begun to make changes to her executive management team. In mid-March, she put the provost, Connie Allen, on leave, citing an internal investigation, according to Allen.

Audit uncovers trouble

Suber’s statement said that the university has received negative attention for poor oversight in financial and grants management and cited a “2013 audit management letter released to the media through an unknown source.”

The audit findings – including disorganized accounting functions and questionable check-writing procedures – were reported in a Feb. 20 News & Observer story that also revealed a $3 million drop in tuition revenue and a lawsuit alleging lack of payment to the contractor of the school’s unfinished football stadium.

The story attracted the attention of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting organization that is now reviewing the university’s financial condition.

“We are at a critical juncture in both the University’s present and future and we need to be vigilant in assuring that every administrator on the team shares both the mission and the vision of the University,” Suber’s statement said. “In these times of extreme financial challenges, and given the current political landscape of our country, that sometimes means putting our personal philosophies on a back burner and supporting practices that strengthen the infrastructure of the University over the long haul.”

Board is paying attention

The Board of Trustees met last Friday to continue its stepped up monitoring of the financially troubled campus.

“There are just several issues that we have to work together to try to resolve,” Rodney Gaddy of Charlotte, chairman of the board, said Thursday before the news of Haynes’ firing.

Gaddy said the board had received communications from alumni and others who are worried about the future of St. Aug’s, the historically black university near downtown Raleigh. The board is taking a thoughtful, methodical approach, he said, and “we are not turning a blind eye to the concerns.”

Besides the financial issues, the university is also answering questions from federal investigators about the handling of grants. Federal officials are investigating whether the university improperly sought a grant for minority health research. The U.S. Department of Education has made an inquiry into the hiring and payment of an employee with federal grant funds, Gaddy confirmed. The former employee, now deceased, was Suber’s godson.

“I do believe that the university has an appropriate response to that, and I don’t believe that there’s been any violation,” Gaddy said. “An inquiry is just that, and so we are answering questions about what transpired there. I have not seen what our response is going to be there yet, but in speaking with the president about this, she certainly assured us that we have appropriate responses for that as well.”

Gaddy said, “We’re not in a situation where there’s animosity between us and Dr. Suber.”

“I think it would be unfair to the board members and unfair to the university, really, to publicly talk about some of the very confidential things we are talking about as a board at this point.”

Financial advice unheeded

St. Aug’s had 1,064 students at the beginning of the spring semester – down by about 200 students from the fall term. That followed a decline from last year.

Haynes said she had advised Suber to make substantial cuts to deal with the loss in tuition revenue. “We were going to run out of money,” she said. A furlough planned for March was canceled.

Haynes said eventually she felt the situation was serious enough to take her concerns to the board.

“I felt compelled,” she said. “I have a fiduciary responsibility to the university, and if I’m telling her and it’s not doing any good, then I have to take it to the next level to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on.”

Marc Newman, a former St. Aug’s vice president, said it should raise eyebrows that in the past year three vice presidents have departed and a provost has been put on leave.

“You’re going to tell me that all those people suddenly became incompetent?” Newman asked. “There’s a level of frustration because I think you have people who care about St. Augustine’s University and its wherewithal and they have been ostracized.”

Gaddy said the university is going through a period of great uncertainty but he has high hopes for St. Aug’s.

“We just have to focus on getting some financial stability, and I think everything else should come into place,” he said. “At least that’s my hope.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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