Stock photo - New Colbourn Hall MA

UCF President Dale Whittaker, former UCF President John C. Hitt, former UCF Vice President for Administration and Finance and Chief Financial Officer William Merck, along with other faculty members were all provided with information that $38 million in state education and general funds were used to build Trevor Colbourn Hall, a report by an investigating law firm found.

NSM Today obtained documents regarding the findings of the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner law firm’s three-month investigation ahead of a special Board of Trustees meeting, which will be taking place Friday from 3-5 p.m. at the Fairwinds Alumni Center, to discuss the report’s findings.

The report completed by the Atlanta-based law firm found no evidence that Merck, or anyone acting under his direction, ever explained to the Board of Trustees that the funding of Trevor Colbourn Hall was misused and not permitted.

In September 2018, UCF admitted to misusing state funds that were intended for educational purposes to pay for the construction of Trevor Colbourn Hall. The state auditor general’s office reviewed the project and alerted the Board of Trustees about the funding issue. The Board of Trustees subsequently hired the independent, third-party law firm to provide an internal investigation.

Whittaker asked Merck to resign in early September 2018. Merck at the time took “full and immediate responsibility” for the problem.

It’s a complicated problem.

According to the documents, the law firm interviewed more than 40 witnesses and reviewed tens of thousands of documents, including financial and accounting records, audio recordings, emails and text messages.

In an email thread sent to the budget office on June 19, 2015, Senior Associate Controller Christina Tant copied Whittaker, asking the office to “transfer $18,000,000 from the university’s E&G [education and general] carry forward reserve to A&F’s reserve department.” That same afternoon, the funds had been successfully transferred, the thread showed.

Education and general funds, according to the Board of Governors statute 9.007, are used for “operating activities only, such as, but not limited to, general instruction, research, public service, plant operations and maintenance, student services, libraries, administrative support, and other enrollment-related and stand-alone operations of the universities.” 

In addition, under Board of Governors regulation, "E&G funds cannot be used to construct new facilities, although E&G can be used for repair and maintenance of existing facilities."

One of the documents in the report titled the 2017-2018 Fixed Capital Outlay Budget Request entails UCF’s “Five-Year Improvement Plan” for 2017-2022 and details a budgeted breakdown for various projects affiliated with UCF.  The document contains Hitt’s signature and was approved by the Board of Trustees on June 27, 2016. It also lists the education and general funds as being the funding source for the $38 million project.

Additionally, a separate document titled The Trevor Colbourn Hall Building Program details the planning, construction and funding of the building. The document includes Whittaker, Hitt and Merck’s signatures. Whittaker signed off on the project while serving as provost for the university. The document, published on Feb. 27, 2017, acknowledges the use of education and general funds for building the new Trevor Colbourn Hall building.

The information within the report will be discussed in-depth on Friday at the Board of Trustees meeting, according to its agenda. The meeting is expected to include “robust discussion” regarding the findings, said Board Chairman Marcos R. Marchena.

“As I said from the start, we accept responsibility for what took place, and we will review the report thoroughly,” Marchena added in a statement.

Abigail Brashear contributed to this report.

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