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SOUTH KINGSTOWN â€“ While working for Executive Director Daniel Doyle at the Institute for International Sport, one Wakefield woman received free college tuition on top of $20,500 annual pay from the University of Rhode Island.
Lorna Prout Wright was on the URI payroll for 15 years as the executive assistant to Doyle â€“ the man at the center of a state police investigation examining how millions of state dollars intended to support the World Scholar Athlete Games and construct an empty-shell of a building on the Kingston campus went missing.
In the spring of 2003, both Wright and Doyle received degrees from URI. Wright earned a bachelorâ€™s degree in landscape architecture from the College of Environment and Life Sciences, while her boss was awarded an honorary degree in humane letters.
As he led the World Scholar Athlete Games as an event to bring children around the world together, Doyle seemed like a perfect selection by URIâ€™s honorary degree committee who bestows degrees to individuals who have distinguished themselves through important contributions to the University, to the State of Rhode Island, and/or to the nation.
Yet that was before an audit in November by interim-Auditor General Dennis Hoyle revealed that Doyle could not account for a $575,000 legislative grant awarded to him five years ago to construct a building on the URI campus. Over the years, Doyle accumulated $381,000 in depth for unreimbursed payroll costs and other expenses to the university.
While employed at the Institute, Wright was enrolled as a student at URI from Fall 1979 through Spring 2003. She was enrolled as a full-time student in Fall 1981, Spring 1982 and Fall 1982 and earned her degree in Spring 2003, according to university spokeswoman Linda Acciardo.
During her time as a student in 2002 to 2003, a tuition waiver was worth $3,864 for in-state students. Though University officials say whether a student receives a tuition waiver is not considered public information, Wright acknowledged in The Providence Journal that she did receive the benefit. Wright declined comment when reached by phone.
While promising to give Rhode Island international acclaim by hosting the games, Doyle was also on the URIâ€™s payroll for 26 years. University officials claim that Wright and Doyle are the only two employees working at the Institute who were on the URI State payroll.
Though Wright and Doyle were technically not considered URI employees or state employees, Acciardo explains the Institute reimbursed the university for its expenses.
â€śThe relationship between the Institute for International Sport and the University goes back more than 25 years,â€ť Acciardo says. â€śAs part of this relationship, the Institute reimbursed the University for its expenses, payroll and benefits under a long-standing agreement. A tuition waiver was provided to one employee at the Institute and the university was reimbursed for this cost by the Institute.â€ť
Despite the fact that URI was reimbursed for these costs, Acciardo states Wright was â€śwas inappropriately determined to be eligible for the tuition waiver by University personnel.â€ť
According to policy set by the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, only full time employees are allowed to receive a tuition waiver. However, Doyle and Wright only served as part-time workers.
This mistake has led University President David M. Dooley to seek an independent examination of the universityâ€™s relationship with the Institute once the state police investigation is complete.
â€śThe University may only provide tuition waivers to full-time employees of the University. A mistake was made by University personnel,â€ť Dooley admits. â€śThis is exactly why I am seeking an independent examination of the Universityâ€™s historical relationship with the Institute to determine what happened and how it happened. The University remains committed to an independent examination of the Universityâ€™s internal transactions once the work of law enforcement is complete.â€ť
Though URI was ready to conduct its own internal investigation by an impartial third-party, on Feb. 20, state police asked university officials to postpone its third party review until the state police investigation was completed.
â€śWe want to ensure that our efforts in no way compromise their investigation,â€ť Dooley says.â€śWe remain committed to an impartial examination of the Universityâ€™s internal transactions and will proceed once the work of law enforcement is complete.
URI officials say they expects that this examination will assist in evaluating arrangements with any other non-profit organizations with which the University may engage in the future.