The University of Connecticut’s Operations and Information Management (OPIM) department head resigned at the end of August after being accused of violating university policies and engaging in an inappropriate relationship with an employee whom he supervised, according to university spokesperson Stephanie Reitz.
Ram D. Gopal, the School of Business’ OPIM department head and professor, was accused by UConn of violating the school’s travel policies, including invalid business travel expenses and bringing his administrative assistant, Melissa Burk, on non-university related trips, according to an official university memo.
“UConn expects all of its employees to comply with university and state policies,” Reitz said. “When the university finds that any employee has failed to do so, it takes appropriate action.”
The findings were complete in spring 2018, Reitz said.
“UConn was actively moving through the necessary steps toward firing [Gopal] when he resigned,” Reitz said.
Gopal is no longer employed by the university and left “not in good standing,” according to Reitz.
“The Office of Institutional Equity investigated and concluded that you engaged in conduct in violation of the ‘Policy Against Discrimination, Harassment and Related Interpersonal Violence’ by having an inappropriate amorous relationship with an employee whom you supervised,” Craig H. Kennedy, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said in a letter in response to Gopal’s resignation.
In December 2017, UConn Audit and Management Advisory Services was asked to assist the Office of University Compliance on an anonymous allegation that Gopal and Burk incorrectly charged business travel expenses to the university, according to a university memo.
“The audit found that [Gopal] violated existing UConn policies; this misconduct was not due to a lack of applicable policies,” Reitz said.
Burk traveled with Gopal on three separate occasions: to Dublin, Los Angeles and South Korea and India.
Burk declared the business purpose for the trips as “[Workshop on Information Technologies and Systems] WITS Conference” and “WITS Feeder Workshop – assisted the president of WITS,” according to a university memo.
Gopal is the president of WITS, which is not a university-established organization, deeming these trips not reimbursable by the university, according to a university memo.
According to the University Travel Policy, “All business expenditures must have a business purpose and must be supported by documentation.”
Burk’s travel expenses for the three trips totaled $17,222, including lodging, meals, airfare, transportation and conference registration, according to a university memo.
“We noted four instances in which [Gopal and Burk] appeared to have included undisclosed personal days in business travel requests,” University Audit Services said in an official memo.
According to the memo, review of emails between Gopal and Burk indicate this time was spent sightseeing.
The total unallowable reimbursed travel expenses amounted to $23,874, according to an official university memo.
Burk and Gopal were reported to have approved each other’s Travel WebForms, the platform used to file travel expenditures, despite Burk’s direct supervision by Gopal, as well as their joint participation in travel.
According to University Travel Policy, “To avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest…employees may not approve payment or reimbursement or expenses… of an individual to whom they directly or indirectly report.”
Before his resignation, Gopal offered to fix his wrongdoing.
“Records indicate [Gopal] offered during the dismissal process to reimburse the University for all improper travel expenses incurred,” Reitz said. It is unsure if this has happened.
University Audit Services found “significant, ongoing payroll expenditures charged to object code 5370, Overtime.”
An email from Gopal to Burk displayed Burk worked accrued compensatory time and failed to record it.
“You have on several occasions stayed beyond the normal work hours,” Gopal said in the email to Burk. “And I agreed that in return when there is no pressing work in the department you can leave earlier.”
According to article 18.3 of the University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association contract, “Employees will make every effort to request the utilization of accrued compensatory time and supervisors are encouraged to approve these requests.”
Gopal’s salary at the time of resignation was $320,306 and was paid approximately an additional $60,000 annually in stipends for research, according to Reitz. Gopal was hired by UConn in Sept. 1993.
Burk is still employed by the School of Business OPIM department as an administrative assistant with a current salary of $54,895. She was hired in Sept. 2014, after being a temporary worker since early 2013, according to Reitz.
Ashley Anglisano is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.