ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - On Wednesday, state lawmakers took aim at the University of Central Florida after an audit revealed a misuse of more than $30 million in funds.
That money was spent to construct a building on campus, but was designated for things like salaries and operational costs.
Leaders in Tallahassee may now use the audit to make statewide changes to how universities spend money.
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The decision to build Trevor Colbourn Hall with millions meant for salaries and operating costs was made before Dale Whittaker became president of UCF, but in a just-released response to the audit that caught the improper spending, he wrote, “It is clear that proper controls were not in place at the institution.
More troubling, some staff knowingly and purposefully took actions that violated state statutes and Board of Governors' policy. This is not acceptable.”
Whittaker was not available to interview with 9 Investigates on Wednesday, because he was in Tallahassee as UCF’s misspending was scrutinized in a special three-committee meeting.
The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Subcommittee and the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee scheduled a joint meeting to discuss improper spending on building projects at the University of Central Florida and oversight issues in the higher-education system.
“How is a building the size of the one at UCF able to be built, and completed, before any of these procedures were able to catch it?” Republican State Representative Cord Byrd questioned during the meeting.
Wednesday’s meeting came as the Florida Auditor General released its full report on UCF, noting not just the misspent money, but also questioning former university president John Hitt’s role and salary as President Emeritus.
Hitt, who now lives in Wisconsin according to the audit, receives a $300,000 salary in a fundraising role for the university. Whittaker noted in his response that Hitt played a major role in generating more than $8 million in private support for UCF, with approximately $10 million more in the works.
UCF hired an independent firm to audit its spending following the state audit, and that investigation is expected to wrap up in the next two weeks.
Decisions whether to change the oversight procedures for spending within the state university system will be made during the upcoming legislative session.
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