FSCJ: A College in Crisis

We’ve waited since June for MGT of America’s $75,000 report on Florida State College at Jacksonville. We got it last week.

A report with almost no teeth.

OK, it does recommend eliminating the executive vice president position. A position that’s been essentially vacant for two months while Don Green has been on an extended vacation at the request of President Steve Wallace. Green’s employment is under review after he asked his FSCJ assistants to handle his time cards, expense reports and travel for his work as a temporary senior vice president at Essex County College in Newark, N.J. That work earned Green $57,000 in addition to his $190,000 FSCJ salary. So MGT’s recommendation is a no-brainer.

However, another recommendation from the report is to add a chief of staff position. Why? “This position relieves the college president of a wide and complex variety of administrative responsibilities,” the report states.

It turns out that, after polling the 16 cabinet members, MGT found that 43.8 percent (or seven members) were neutral and 37.5 percent (six) were negative about Wallace’s managerial practices. So, obviously, the answer is to hire someone else to take care of those duties.

The good news is that on leadership, collaborative/relational skills, job knowledge and communication skills, Wallace received high marks from his cabinet.

But that might not be surprising, given that those same cabinet members received bonuses from 3 to 14 percent of their base salary for several years, starting in 2003. That’s on top of six-figure salaries the entire cabinet was making by 2005. In 2009, 12 senior managers received $152,025 in bonuses at an average of $12,669 each, according to The Florida Times-Union. Of the 834 other eligible FSCJ employees, 231 received an average bonus of $670, for a total of $155,000. Faculty did not receive incentive pay.

By the way, cabinet members didn’t receive bonuses the past two years, but they did receive raises from 6.1 to 31 percent during that time, college officials have said. Bonuses apparently aren’t planned for senior managers this year.

It’s easy to be generous when you have Wallace’s annual salary of $328,000 and a total compensation package of $513,000. In the Florida College System, that ranks second to Miami Dade College’s president ($605,046), who runs a school with 59,725 students, compared to FSCJ’s 24,798.

On top of that, Wallace seemed to have a liberal spending policy, as he charged more than $187,000 to the college and its foundation over two years, for expenses including phones, iPad service, Internet, Cadillac lease, meals and drinks, a Times-Union review of his expenses found. To be fair, it’s hard to say how this spending would compare to other state college and university presidents if they were held up to the same scrutiny. Another recommendation in MGT’s report is continued monitoring of expenses for senior managers, including pre-approval of Wallace’s hospitality and travel expenses.

Money has never seemed to be a problem for Wallace, who was featured in a computer-generated video shown at the 2010 fall convocation, flying through the air with money literally falling from his pockets. “Great, Don,” Wallace’s avatar said to Green’s avatar as they flew from campus to campus. “Looks like you’ve blown another gazillion dollars.” An employee is shown handing wads of loose cash from a desk drawer to the tune “Who Let The Dogs Out?”

Meanwhile, FSCJ owes the Department of Education $4.2 million for students who received Pell Grants they shouldn’t have during a two-year period, plus a $515,000 penalty for $4 million of wrongly issued student loans. FSCJ said financial aid workers were pressured by rising enrollment and made mistakes while rushing through the appeals process. But this summer, a review by Jacksonville lawyer Bill Scheu found that the department’s lax culture contributed to the mistakes.

During much of this time, the trustees — who are collectively Wallace’s boss — acted as a rubber stamp for Wallace. Over five years, the board considered 369 proposals from Wallace. The panel approved every agenda item unanimously, with the exception of two votes of dissent by Bruce Barcelo when he opposed asking students to repay millions in errantly awarded Pell Grants and when trustees agreed to reinstate pay for suspended associate vice president Celine McArthur.

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, leader of the state Senate higher education committee, has called for a grand jury investigation into FSCJ. He pointed to a state audit that raised questions about Wallace’s contract converting almost 100 days of unused sick leave into vacation days he could be paid for if he left. The audit said this was illegal; the board removed the provision, and Wallace repaid the money. Oelrich said consequences could include cutting state funding to the college.

In a July town-hall style meeting, Wallace apologized to about 200 FSCJ employees during a town hall-style meeting for asking them to make spending sacrifices while his office didn’t, taking responsibility for news that “cast a shadow” on the college.

Is an apology enough? Is an MGT report that makes a few recommendations to rearrange some job responsibilities enough?

Or is it time for the FSCJ board to grow the teeth this report didn’t provide?