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July 31, 2013

 

DiNapoli Audit Finds $1 Million in Questionable Sabbaticals and Paid Leave at SUNY Albany

State University at Albany (UAlbany) officials failed to consistently follow guidelines for sabbatical leaves and granted questionable paid leave to other employees, unnecessarily costing taxpayers more than $1 million, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“UAlbany did not properly monitor sabbaticals of some employees and granted questionable leave for other employees, calling into question the benefit that taxpayers and the university have actually received from the use of paid leaves,” DiNapoli said. “The State University of New York, together with its campuses, needs to strengthen its leave policies and make sure taxpayer and tuition dollars are not being wasted. The Comptroller’s Office made recommendations to SUNY on sabbaticals and other paid leave 22 years ago that have still not been implemented.”

From Sept. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2011, UAlbany granted 196 sabbatical leaves at a cost of more than $9.2 million and granted 43 other paid leaves at a cost of more than $1.6 million. DiNapoli’s auditors reviewed a sample of 55 sabbatical leaves for 53 employees during that time. Auditors found that 15 employees took sabbatical leaves costing $396,581 that did not comply with SUNY or UAlbany policies.

Sabbatical leaves are granted to academic employees and administrative officers to promote professional development. According to SUNY’s Board of Trustees’ policies and SUNY’s collective bargaining agreement with professors, SUNY employees are required to return to service for one year after completing their sabbaticals and must complete an activity and accomplishment report showing the results of their time away. If an employee does not return to the campus to work for the required year after taking a sabbatical, UAlbany can take steps to recover the employee’s sabbatical compensation. Also, employees on sabbatical are supposed to receive no more than 50 percent of their annual salary.

DiNapoli’s auditors found one employee took sabbatical leave and went to a foreign country where he eventually found a full-time job. The employee never returned to UAlbany for the required minimum period, even though he received $38,082 in pay. UAlbany did not recover the money paid to this employee.

Two employees did not submit the required report of professional activities and accomplishments after returning from sabbatical leave. Without this report, UAlbany administrators lacked adequate support to show what activities the employees engaged in, what they accomplished while on sabbatical, and whether there was any benefit to the campus. The school paid the two employees a total of $173,491, including payments to the previously cited employee who did not return to work. UAlbany only obtained the required activities and accomplishment reports from the employees in question after the audit began.

Auditors also found that UAlbany officials granted leaves that were inconsistent with the intent of the sabbatical program. For example, two employees were granted sabbatical leave for a full year and were paid their full salaries. This occurred because UAlbany granted the two employees both sabbatical and other paid leave at the same time. However, there was no documentation that officials approved the other paid leave for these employees during sabbatical. UAlbany granted another employee sabbatical leave for six months followed by other paid leave for six months. Thus, UAlbany paid the employee his full annual salary although he was on leave for an entire year.

The school paid the three employees a total of $330,468 for their leaves. However, because SUNY policy limits an employee’s compensation to 50 percent of salary while on sabbatical, they should have been paid $165,864.

The university also granted an employee a sabbatical costing $57,225 with the understanding the employee would not return after the sabbatical ended. The sabbatical program, however, is not intended for this purpose. As it turned out, the employee did return to his job after completing the leave.

DiNapoli recommended UAlbany:

  • Ensure full compliance with prescribed requirements for sabbatical leave;
  • Formally assess the instances of non-compliance and payroll system errors; and
  • Take actions as needed, including the recovery of improper compensation payments, to address the matters presented.

SUNY grants other paid leave to academic and professional employees for the purpose of professional development or other purposes consistent with the needs and interests of the school.

However, auditors found that four employees paid a total of $292,267 while on other paid leave did not return to UAlbany at the conclusion of their leaves. Instead, these employees either retired or resigned. One of the employees noted on his leave application that he intended to take leave “with full pay leading to retirement.” As a result, auditors questioned what benefit accrued to UAlbany by using other paid leave in this manner.

The school also guaranteed a job candidate one-year leave at full salary after just one year of service as an employment incentive even though the dean responsible for this employee documented strong disagreement with giving an employee a year off as an employment incentive.

Auditors also found that although SUNY prohibits employees on other paid leave from accruing leave credits, UAlbany allowed five employees to receive 14.83 days of leave credits (worth $3,436) that they were not entitled to while on other paid leave.

DiNapoli recommended SUNY:

  • Develop and implement clear policies to establish accountability over other paid leave, including requiring employees to return for one year of professional service at the conclusion of paid leave and requiring employees returning from paid leave to complete accomplishment reports;
  • Adopt guidelines that clearly distinguish between sabbatical and other paid leave, identify the expected purpose and benefit to SUNY from each, and identify the circumstances under which each type of leave is appropriate; and
  • Ensure that employees on paid leave do not accrue leave credits.

UAlbany officials responded to the audit but generally did not agree with the findings. The university’s full response is included in the audit.

For the complete audit, visit: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093013/11s34.pdf


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