Screengrab of an audit
Screengrab of an audit of the University of Connecticut prepared by the state Auditors of Public Accounts. Credit: Screengrab / Connecticut Auditors of Public Accounts

The University of Connecticut overpaid faculty who went on sabbatical, including former President Susan Herbst, and failed to solicit bids for contracts that exceed the $500,000 threshold, according to a report from the state Auditors of Public Accounts.

Principal Auditor John Harrison said UConn overpaid Herbst $335,514 and a second employee $98,649 while they were on sabbatical, and also did not require faculty to repay sabbatical pay when they did not meet the return-to-work requirements.

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said Herbst’s pay is stipulated by a contract approved by the Board of Regents and remains in place even after she stepped down as president in 2019 to continue teaching political science. 

“President Herbst was on sabbatical as a former president, rather than in her capacity as a faculty member,” Reitz said in a statement. “This is consistent with past presidents who were similarly paid a full-year leave at their presidential base salary.”

Reitz said UConn will contact the state Auditors of Public Accounts to “clarify the distinction between faculty sabbaticals and leaves that may be afforded by virtue of an employment agreement.”

She also said that in other cases UConn will take steps to follow its bylaws, which stipulate that an employee can either take a one-semester sabbatical at full pay or a two-semester sabbatical at half pay.

Employees also have to return to work for at least a year after their sabbatical, and must repay UConn if they fail to meet that requirement.

Harrison reviewed 15 employees who went on sabbatical over a three-year period ending June 30, 2021, and found four who failed to meet the return-to-work requirement. They were paid a combined $289,956, but they never repaid the funds and UConn never sought repayment.

The audit also said this problem was noted in a prior audit five years ago. 

Harrison also reviewed six contracts, totaling $20.4 million, which required UConn to seek competitive bids because they exceeded $500,000. In three cases, UConn did not seek bids.

The most expensive contract had a value of more than $3.1 million, while two others cost nearly $2.2 million and $943,506 respectively.

The report notes UConn contested the finding, telling Harrison that “a state agency also has the statutory authority to sole source procurement when certain circumstances are met.” Harrison said he did not think the three contracts met the criteria.

Similarly, he said UConn failed to justify its decision to not seek bids for a $4 million construction project, giving the work to a construction manager already working on another project for the school.

Other findings in the 50-page report include overcompensating employees who stepped down to lower positions and improper approval of compensation time.

Harrison audited 20 employees who stepped down from management positions during the three-year period and found four instances where UConn increased those employees’ monthly salaries.

According to the audit, UConn did not have documentation justifying those decisions. 

Harrison also said UConn did not have any documentation showing managers approved compensation time. Under a collective bargaining agreement, UConn employees asked to work overtime can accrue additional time off as compensation and use it in the future. 

Employees must complete a form and get formal approval from their manager, according to the audit.

Harrison reviewed 15 employees who accrued a combined 9,848 hours of compensation time and found that UConn did not have proper documentation for five employees who collectively had 3,337 hours worth of compensation time.