The Evergreen State College officials must explore all options in their effort to recover $50,000 in public funds that state auditors concluded were misappropriated from the school’s academic travel program between 2005 and 2008.
The fraud report released last week by the state Auditor’s Office confirmed what an earlier college internal audit revealed: A faculty member misused at least $50,000 in funds collected from TESC students who signed up for a study program in Chile.
The faculty member, Jorge Gilbert, has yet to provide a plausible explanation for his conduct. In a brief statement last week, he said the college’s internal report is based on rumors and that he and his attorney are preparing a response.
According to the audit report, there is plenty of explaining to do:
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• Gilbert has yet to account for $50,000 he collected from students for the travel aboard program from 2005 to 2008.
• He may have violated the state Ethics in Public Service law by signing contracts on behalf of the college with a company owned by his family members.
• He reportedly overstated the number of students interested in two of three travel programs to gain college approval and funding for the trips.
• He bypassed the college’s accounting system by asking students to deposit travel money into a bank account for which he was the only signer. That would be a violation of state law and college policy.
The incident reveals gaps in internal controls involving the college’s academic travel program. College officials said they already have taken several steps to better protect public funds. They include:
• Require students to deposit funds for travel program expenses directly with the college.
• Require all travel arrangements be made through the college travel office, unless otherwise approved by the budget dean.
• Train faculty members participating in overseas studies how to properly document all expenditures and fill out all the necessary forms, contracts and waivers for overseas travel.
The opportunity to study overseas can and should be an enriching part of a student’s college experience. Hopefully, this is an isolated case that won’t cause long-term damage to the school’s academic travel program.
Many other questions about this case have yet to be resolved. But that shouldn’t deter college officials from the first order of business — recovering the missing funds from Gilbert or through the school’s insurance policy.