The Board of Regents ruled yesterday that the allegations of mismanagement and abuse of power leveled against Northern Marianas College president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D., are unsubstantiated and will not be acted on.
In a special meeting, the board presented an eight-page report of its committee that held a two-day review of documents submitted as evidence by both faculty members and Hart. The committee found the faculty allegation unsupported. The board adopted its recommendation by a 5-0 vote, with regent Frank Rabauliman not present.
Hart was accused of fiscal mismanagement and abuse of power, including alleged spending of over $200,000 for off-island travels.
“While both the concerned faculty members and the president submitted documentation showing actual travel expenses by the president in an amount over $50,000 and the faculty submitted budget documentation showing, in places, a figure in the $200,000 range, the board did not see any documentation that indicated that the president spent $200,000 on her travels for the time period referred to,” stated the board decision signed by chair Juan T. Lizama.
For Hart's alleged “unwarranted personal reimbursement,” the board said it is unclear to the regents as to what exactly is the faculty's concern about these reimbursements. It said there was no policy submitted to show how the amounts, or the specific use, violated any such policy.
The faculty had accused Hart of collecting $1,101.96 in “unwarranted personal reimbursements like lunches, carwashes, and others.”
Hart was also absolved of alleged involvement and approval of sole-source contracts such as that of her husband, who received a $14,000 consultancy fee from the new college foundation, where the president is an ex-officio member; and the hiring of Hart's son in a work-study program at the college. The board found these allegations unsubstantiated.
“The board found no documents specifically marked as supporting this concern. The board did find a copy of an article published in a local newspaper regarding one sole-source contract. It found no others,” the decision read.
The board also cleared Hart of alleged violations of human resources policies and procedures in the hiring of off-island employees. “Again, not only is this concern unclear to the board, but it found no document specifically marked in support of this concern.”
The faculty's concern, the board added, is also unclear as to what exactly Hart micromanaged at the institution.
The board, however, disclosed that Hart admitted the hiring of her son as a work-study employee, but found no truth to the allegation that she also wants to hire her son-in-law. The board said the person that the faculty is referring to is a son of the president's family.
“The president's response adequately showed that no ethical violation occurred [in the hiring of her son]. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, the board does caution the president that she should exercise better discretion in such a situation,” the decision read.
Other allegations that were found unsubstantiated included the faculty contract's non-renewal without cause; alleged inequitable salaries for new hires versus experienced employees; alleged dishonored contracts; equipment purchases without RFP; interference and manipulation of student registration process for personal gain; and others.
On the issue of violation of NMC procurement and CNMI law regarding the issuance of a government vehicle to Hart, the board said this has been rectified after it provided the president a $1,000 monthly transportation allowance.
If there was any admission of error on the part of the NMC president, it was on the accusation of plagiarism regarding portions of the college's accreditation report.
“Substantiated and the president admitted to it. However, the board was informed of the error by the president as soon as she became aware of it. The board is satisfied with the corrective action taken to resolve this concern,” stated the board's decision.
Hart also admitted to the “incorrect” information she provided the board. Saipan Tribune learned that this pertains to the School of Education's admittance of alumni as teachers, which is considered a positive note by the accreditation team but which was orally reported to the board by the president as among the college's “weaknesses.”
“Substantiated and admitted by the president that the recommendation was not stated at the SOE WASC exit session. What she said in her report to the board was apparently said to her orally. The board agrees that the issue is a sensitive issue and the president should have explicitly stated in her report to the board that the recommendation was made orally so that the board was made aware of that fact,” the decision added.
Lack depth; railroaded
Faculty members, including Faculty Senate president Amanda Angel-Diaz and members Cyndi Guerrero and Kyle Podziewski, yesterday expressed dissatisfaction with the board's findings.
Angel-Diaz said she will relay the outcome to the Faculty Senate and assembly and the group will decide on its next step, including the possibility of asking the board for clarification on some of its findings.
Prior to yesterday's adjournment of the meeting, Angel-Diaz provided the regents a copy of the board policy that highlights their role as regents, which include, among others, being accountable for the president's action.
Angel-Diaz and other faculty members accused the board of railroading the decision to favor the president, who will be reporting at the accreditation meeting next week.
Podziewski, vice chair of the governance council, said he was not surprised with the result because the board's investigation “lacked depth” and “was not thorough.”
Faculty members also believe the “unsubstantiated” mark in most of the allegations was due to insufficient documents they filed as a result of the “very short period” given them to comply with the board's instruction. Angel-Diaz said the faculty was only given two days-including Christmas Eve-to come up with all the evidence.
Up to this time, Angel-Diaz revealed that they were not provided a copy of Hart's response to all the allegations against her.