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colbournhall University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida misappropriated funds to build Trevor Colbourn Hall, which opened in 2018.

Legislative report faults University of Central Florida for misappropriating millions for construction

Florida House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee finds that the university administrators flouted state rules and trustees were ill-informed as the diverted millions of dollars of operating funds to construction projects.

The University of Central Florida was able to spend millions of dollars in operating funds on building construction because of administrators who dismissed state rules, university trustees who were ill-informed and asked too few questions, and a state university system that provided inconsistent guidance, a Florida House committee has concluded.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the House Public Integrity and Ethics committee's findings blast the university for spending, or planning to spend, a total of $85 million in state operating funds on construction.

The committee also found fault with the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system. The committee says officials failed to provide a thorough review of reports submitted by the university, and had it done so, it could have prevented the school from misspending money.

The report recommends additional training for the Board of Trustees, stronger internal controls and better practices and rules for the Board of Governors. 

The problems with construction spending at Central Florida first came to light over the summer, when the auditor general’s office flagged $38 million in leftover operating money that had been budgeted for Trevor Colbourn Hall, an academic building that opened in August.

In all, university leaders say the school spent or planned to spend $85 million in operating money on construction, including the $38 million that was budgeted for Trevor Colbourn Hall. The misspending led to the resignation of University President Dale Whittaker, Chief Financial Officer Bill Merck and Board of Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena.

Whittaker, who was the university’s provost during much of the planning process for Trevor Colbourn Hall, has maintained that he didn’t know the university was misspending money.

But the House report says Whittaker was provided with information about the state’s rules for operating funds when he became provost in August 2014 and that he received “at least one clear written explanation” of how those funds could be used.

The committee also says university leaders “undermined transparency” and hindered the investigation when they didn’t disclose that they had transferred, but not yet spent, $32.7 million in operating funds for use on other construction projects until after they received the audit findings in late November.

The report found that the university’s board of trustees lacked the training and information they needed to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Trustees asked too few questions, and “they could have and should have known more than they did,” according to the report.

The committee also chastised the Board of Governors for lax oversight that contributed to the misspending. The report says the system failed to provide written guidance, even when universities requested it. 

Although the Trevor Colbourn Hall project tipped off the auditor general that Central Florida was misusing state money, the committee’s report says it found 16 other instances of operating fund transfers for construction projects, as well as a pattern of using questionable accounting methods to hide the transfers.

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