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NYS Comptroller

THOMAS P. DiNAPOLI

Taxpayers' Guide to State and Local Audits

State University of New York
University at Albany
Sabbatical and Other Paid Leave


Issued: July 30, 2013
Link to full audit report 2011-S-34
Link to 90-day response

Purpose
To determine whether the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany (Albany) complied with policies for administering sabbatical and other paid leave.

Background
Policies regarding sabbaticals and other paid leave are set by SUNY's Board of Trustees and labor agreements. The individual SUNY campuses, including the University at Albany (Albany), are responsible for administering sabbatical and other paid leave policies consistent with SUNY direction and the corresponding provisions of the pertinent labor agreements. Sabbatical leaves are granted to academic and administrative officers to promote professional development. Other paid leaves are granted to academic employees for professional development or other purposes consistent with the needs and interests of the school. There are several specific guidelines and requirements relating to sabbatical leaves. In comparison, the guidelines and requirements for other paid leaves are general and limited. In previous audits, we recommended that SUNY strengthen policies and requirements for other paid leave.

Key Findings

  • We found officials complied with applicable formal guidance for most of the sabbatical and other paid leave we reviewed. However, there were instances of non-compliance with prescribed sabbatical program guidance and questionable uses of sabbatical leaves. The sabbaticals in question cost Albany $396,581. We also questioned the propriety of other paid leaves which cost $622,062.
  • One employee, for example, did not return to Albany for the required minimum period of one year after the sabbatical. This employee received a total of $38,082 in salaries and stipends while on sabbatical. Also, this employee and another employee failed to submit the required statements of activities and accomplishments after completing their sabbaticals.
  • Albany officials granted other paid leave costing $292,267 to four employees whom they knew would not return to work. The four employees either retired or resigned. One of the employees who received $90,494 noted on his leave request that he intended to take leave "with full pay leading to retirement."
  • SUNY has not implemented recommendations we made 22 years ago to ensure other paid leaves were in the best interest of the campuses. As a result, the environment at Albany enabled officials to grant other paid leaves without adequate justification.

Key Recommendation

  • Improve controls over the granting of sabbatical and other paid leave to ensure they comply with SUNY policies.
  • Adopt policies for granting other paid leave that ensure leave is granted for reasons consistent with the needs and interests of the University.

(In response to the draft audit report, SUNY officials indicate general agreement with our recommendations. However, the SUNY response also provides a detailed narrative explaining 2011-S-34 Division of State Government Accountability 2 why each of the examples cited in the audit report is compliant with SUNY's current policy and why no recoveries are in order. In addition, SUNY officials point out that individual University campuses are prevented from unilaterally effectuating changes to sabbatical and other paid leave polices because the polices are the subject of negotiations in New York State.)

Auditor's Comments: We maintain that many of the examples cited in our report do represent non-compliance with existing policies and that certain of the examples do call into question the benefit that taxpayers and the University have actually received from the use of paid leaves. Our State Comptroller's Comments at the end of this final audit report provide our detailed rejoinders to the SUNY response.

We recognize that the University at Albany does not have the authority to unilaterally change existing negotiated policy for sabbatical and other paid leaves. In this regard, our intention is to point out shortcomings with the current policies so that the System Administration, together with the campuses, can act to strengthen policies through the negotiation process. We point out now, as we did 22 years ago, that the criteria for other paid leave ought to be more comprehensive to ensure accountability and transparency. Also, we reiterate that our illustrations of the use of other paid leave simultaneously with or in conjunction with sabbatical leave calls into question whether other paid leave has a demonstrable benefit to the University and to taxpayers or is simply used to circumvent the salary limitations associated with sabbatical leave. The absence of contemporaneous reports of the actual results and benefits of paid leave, as cited in the audit report, only serves to reinforce this view.

Other Related Audits/Reports of Interest

State University of New York: Downstate Medical Center: Allegations of Procurement Fraud, Waste and Abuse (2010-S-45)
State University of New York: Educational Opportunity Program (2007-S-99)


State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Brian Mason
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: StateGovernmentAccountability@osc.state.ny.us
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236