Amid a Florida House investigation into the University of Central Florida’s misuse of public funds, the UCF Board of Trustees postponed a scheduled Thursday meeting on a proposed $600,000 settlement with former President Dale Whittaker, who resigned this month.
“We are postponing this meeting until the Board of Trustees can review the forthcoming report from the House Committee on Public Integrity and Ethics and for trustees to review the additional depositions that have been recently released,” board Chairman Robert Garvy said in a statement.
In the last week, the House’s top investigative committee has released hundreds of pages of deposition transcripts from current and former university officials, including Whittaker. The investigation is ongoing into the university’s use of $38 million in operational funds for the construction of Trevor Colbourn Hall, an on-campus building. Operational funds cannot be used for construction projects.
Testimony from current and former university officials shows that Whittaker was aware of how the funds were being used, but Whitaker has testified he did not know it violated any rules.
“I was never made aware that use of (operational) funds for Trevor Colbourn Hall violated state statute or Board of Governor regulations. And that is true,” Whittaker testified, referring to the state university system’s Board of Governors.
Whittaker’s resignation as president and as a tenured faculty member was accepted by the UCF Board of Trustees during a meeting last week. The board was scheduled to discuss a settlement with Whittaker on Thursday, but that meeting was postponed Wednesday.
The board was slated to consider $165,000 in severance pay for Whittaker and $435,000 “for relinquishment of his tenure at UCF,” according to a document that was posted on the university’s website but has since been taken down. The university would also cover Whittaker’s legal costs.
The move to postpone the meeting was praised by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
“As the state’s financial watchdog, I believe the Board of Trustees was right to delay this vote,” Patronis said in a statement. “Additional time will provide an opportunity for the Florida Legislature to address these issues.”
The misappropriation of funds at UCF has created a rift between the school and state lawmakers. That includes two powerful House Republicans, Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Randy Fine and Public Integrity and Ethics Chairman Tom Leek, who say they are concerned about a “systematic problem” in the state university system, considering UCF, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida have all faced recent investigations over the misuse of public funds.
In his statement, Patronis also raised a concern about credit ratings, which affect borrowing costs for projects.
“Whether intentional or not, if the misappropriation of university funding like what occurred with UCF’s construction spending becomes a systemic problem, it may negatively impact their credit rating,” Patronis said.