KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – Two former vice presidents claim Washburn University fired them for cooperating with an investigation of questionable practices by the university’s president – including “skewing enrollment and credit hour calculations by including ‘phantom’ students.”
Wanda Hill, formerly Washburn’s vice president for administration and treasurer, and Robin Bowen, former vice president for academic affairs, sued Washburn and its President Jerry Farley in Federal Court. Washburn, of Topeka, has more than 7,000 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs – including a law school, according to the school’s website.
The VPs claim that Washburn learned in 2008 that many of its students had enrolled in classes they never attended, but never dropped, either. They say a committee recommended that the school change its policies, to reflect Washburn’s true enrollment, but Farley refused.
“Specifically, President Farley directed plaintiff Bowen to forgo the recommendations to drop students from enrollment at Washburn University,” the complaint states. “This was done so that the students could be shown as enrolled to artificially inflate enrollment numbers and prevent Washburn University from discovering students who wrongfully received federal financial aid credited to their university accounts.”
The VPs also claim that the investigation showed that Washburn provided more scholarships than authorized for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 academic years. In 2007-2008, Washburn handed out $500,000 in excess scholarships, according to the complaint.
“When the Board of Regents discovered the $500,000 2007-08 budget shortfall had been created as a result of this wrongful practice, Defendant Farley was asked about the shortfall at a regularly scheduled Board of Regents meeting on May 16, 2008,” the complaint states.
“He was also asked whether this mistaken or intentional act had been done before. Defendant Farley’s response was that this was the ‘first time this had happened’. This response was false and known to be false when it was made,” the complaint states. “When plaintiffs were asked about this issue by members of the Board of Regents outside of the regular Board meetings, both plaintiffs Hill and Bowen disclosed that the same budget issue had occurred in 2006-07 involving awarding scholarships in excess of the approved budget. They additionally revealed the fact to two Board members that it was defendant Farley that directed other university funds be used to cover the shortfall in 2006-07.”
The Veeps say that in June 2009, Farley told them to report to him whenever they were contacted by Board members.
“Plaintiffs complied with defendant Farley’s request and advised him each time they had been contacted by a Board member and related the substance of the conversations,” the complaint states. “On one such occasion, Defendant Farley suggested to them techniques they could use to appear to be answering questions honestly but in fact would evade making a direct factual response.”
The Board of Regents allegedly met several times in February 2010 and March 2010 to discuss Farley’s future. Sensing his job being in jeopardy partly due to the plaintiffs’ cooperation with the board, the plaintiffs say, Farley fired Hill on March 30 and Bowen on April 1.
“On or about March 31, 2010, defendant Farley met with the Deans of Washburn University and told them that the plaintiffs were let go for ‘loyalty issues,'” the complaint states.
The ex-VPs say they will not be able to find comparable employment due to Farley’s actions, and add that Bowen, who was being considered for a president’s position at another university, had to withdraw her name from consideration due to her firing. The plaintiffs seek damages for retaliation, whistle-blowing violations, breach of contract and constitutional violations. They are represented by John Frieden with Frieden, Unrein, Forbes of Topeka.