The director of the Matanuska-Susitna College resigned Feb. 17 amid controversy stemming from a local union’s request for an audit because of payroll errors at the campus. Preliminary results of the audit have raised new questions over the school’s business practices, according to union officials.
Paul Dauphinais abruptly announced his resignation late in the day, just before the weekend, and could not be reached for comment.
“He’s in discussions with UAA about a reassignment to the Anchorage campus, and he doesn’t expect to comment until that’s finished,” said Steve Lindbeck, vice chancellor of University Advancement, adding that he didn’t know Dauphinais’ exact intentions.
Chancellor Elaine Maimon sent a letter to Mat-Su College’s faculty and staff concerning Dauphinais’ resignation Feb. 17, in which she confirmed the Dauphinais will be temporarily reassigned to UAA’s main campus.
“I am making arrangements to hold a meeting at Mat-Su College early (the week of Feb. 20) to address your concerns, to discuss the search process for a permanent replacement, and to announce interim leadership,” she said.
When reached earlier in the week, on Feb. 14, Dauphinais said he had been “advised not to comment” about the ongoing payroll investigation.
But in a letter he sent to employees at the college Feb. 10, Dauphinais acknowledged the college had seen “a handful” of cases in which inadvertent payroll errors occurred, though he said the business department adhered to board of regent’s policy in dealing with the errors.
“This year-old letter quoting university regulation is the demand for immediate reimbursement and threat of termination referred to in the (Northern Light) article,” he said. “The reality is, no formal actions were taken by the college, nor were any grievances filed by employees.”
Although regent’s policy was adhered to, it was unclear whether the college’s business manager, Debbie Dickey, had the authority to invoke that stipulation or whether she had been directed to.
Marcia Stratton, the publicity coordinator for the Alaska Community College Federation of Teachers, the union that represents full-time faculty at the college, said the audit has uncovered problems in addition to the payroll issues, but declined to comment specifically, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We’re happy that the university is investigating; we think that’s a good step forward,” she said. “We’re cooperating as much as we can with the investigation, and whatever results from this – the issues that do end up within the purview of our contract – are things that we will try to work with the university to resolve.”
The payroll errors, which consisted of under- and overpayments to eight faculty members at the college, were identified in Sept. 2004, but it wasn’t until Feb. 25, 2005 that the business office sent out the ultimatum to the faculty.
“The February 2005 letter asked that the individuals “make acceptable arrangement[s] for payments within the next 30 days,” Dauphinais wrote in his letter. “(University) Regulation states ‘Failure to make acceptable arrangements-shall constitute just cause for termination of employment.'”
At that point, the union was forced to intervene in the name of protecting its employees’ rights, Stratton said.
“Given the nature of the error, it was obviously concerning to our faculty members that such a final step was suggested as a result of this,” Stratton said. “I think when the faculty members got those letters, that they were just shocked.”
The ACCFT said it requested an internal audit of the campus-which has been a matter of dispute – more than a year later, after the college had failed to correct the errors. The union insists it requested the audit because of the payroll errors, but Dickey said the audit was a regularly-scheduled event.
Dickey, whose office sent the letter to faculty, was placed on administrative leave Feb. 10. She could not be reached for comment.
Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Gebeyehu Ejigu ordered the audit, which began Jan. 9. He said in an e-mail response that he requested the audit in adherence to standard university practices, but he did not state the impetus for his request.
Although he could not comment on the personnel matter involving Dickey, he said that placing her on leave was not necessarily designed as a reprimand.
“Generally speaking, however, I can state to you that placing employees on paid administrative leave while investigating allegations is not a punitive action and does not in any way imply misconduct or wrongdoing on the part of the employee placed on paid administrative leave,” he said. ”It is oftentimes undertaken to improve the environment for the fact-finding and investigation process for all concerned.”
Dana Dodds, a human resources technician in the Mat-Su business department, would not comment on either the audit or Dickey’s leave, but she did confirm reports that half of the college’s staff called in sick Feb. 13.
According to an Anchorage Daily News article published Feb. 15, Dauphinais said he suspected the epidemic could have in fact been a form of “silent protest” to Dickey’s placement on administrative leave, the length of which was undetermined.
Stratton said she couldn’t speculate as to why other means of reconciliation, such as garnishing the overpaid faculty’s wages to correct the errors, hadn’t been attempted before the ultimatum was sent.
“I have no idea why (the college) chose the route that they chose,” Stratton said. “But – for whatever reason – they chose it, and ACCFT was happy to try and help faculty members resolve it, because that’s what a union is.”
Dave Read, the director of the University Division of Internal Audit, said he could not comment on when results from the audit will be released.
As of Feb. 13, all but one of the disputes had been corrected, officials said. The remaining dispute was expected to have been resolved by Feb. 17.