Auditors expose priorities of university

Students on Fairfield Way wait for a UConn bus and Gampel Pavillion stands directly behind. (Marissa Dibella/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut wrongly appropriated funds, according to state auditors. But it’s a week later, and no one really cares anymore, so let’s reiterate: this is far from “not that big a deal,” and UConn should be held accountable.

It was in the news, a lot. UConn misused $49 million from their UConn 2000 bonding project, which was a $980 million investment by the state for “renovation.”

With Next Generation, UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn, all state funding initiatives, the university is set to have gathered, by the end of NextGen, three billion, seven hundred eighty million dollars since 1995. It’s no wonder that $49 million can seem like such a tiny error.

So where did that money go instead of its promised renovations? Apparently, to 10 expansive construction projects, the financial support of which is called “deferred maintenance money.” This includes more dining hall seating, new equipment in labs and, predictably, “improving the safety of pedestrian walkways with things such as new lighting and reconfigured bus stops,” according to the Associated Press.

The law at the time prohibited UConn from “activities aimed at expanding the capacity of an asset or otherwise upgrading it to serve needs different from, or significantly greater than, those originally intended.” The money was supposed to be focused on repairs.

UConn has responded by adhering to a broad interpretation of the law, and saying that they were either improving what was not maintained or continuing projects that had already begun.

In 2016, though, the Connecticut legislature, in a special session, changed the law, okaying maintenance funds to also “renew, modernize, enhance and maintain” UConn 2000 ventures.

The money in question was also used to overpay (by hundreds of thousands of dollars) staff, managers and consultants who were on vacation, not working or hardly a part of the jobs they were assigned to.

This is a scandal based on arrogance – UConn blatantly broke the law and easily got away with it by simply having the law changed. UConn can, it seems, spend its money however it sees fit, with no repercussions. Students, faculty, even state auditors have no say as to the correct use of funds by the university.

Forgetting the shady spending for a moment, one question is becoming clear: Out of this more than three billion dollars in state aid that UConn has been gifted over the past two decades, why has none of it gone toward reducing the price of attending the university? Instead it has been for maintenance, although that didn’t go as planned, beautification and research/the STEM fields, all of which affect rankings and prestige, none of which affect an increasingly unaffordable tuition.

This error will not be forgotten.