PROVIDENCE—University of Rhode Island President David Dooley spoke to a gathering of media outlets at the Rhode Island Foundation on Wednesday to discuss the university’s achievements over the past year, as well as outline the institution’s future goals and overall vision.
“URI as a university primarily aims to educate all of its students for excellence,” said Dooley. “My view is if we are going to do something, our target is excellence. When I came, there was a real priority to become a leader with regard to building community, promoting equity, and building diversity, not just at the university but on the national stage.”
“It is really about the overarching goal of preparing our students for success,” he added.
Dooley specifically addressed a number of issues which have been at the forefront o university news, namely the ongoing criminal investigation into the Institute for International Sport (IIS) and former Executive Director Daniel Doyle, Jr.’s mishandling of $575,000 worth in state grant money, which was allocated for new construction on the institute’s property that remains unfinished.
“[IIS] is not a URI unit,” said Dooley. “They lease land from us, but the building is theirs, the operation is theirs, and really we have no oversight and no involvement in those operations at all.”
“We are, as most of Rhode Island, awaiting the outcome of the investigation and we know as much about that really as you do,” he added.
The Institute has further been the center of a complex network of fiscal and political abuses committed by Doyle, Jr., who had served as the Executive Director of the Institute since 1986, but stepped down in February after an audit report conducted by state Auditor General Dennis Hoyle regarding the unfinished buildings.
Although Doyle has since repaid a further debt of $380,846 owed to URI, numerous allegations of purposeful mishandling of the Institute’s finances and overall program under his tenure have arisen, including federal tax liens that were assessed to IIS and filed in 2011, one totaling approximately $72,000. On May 30, 2011, $21,709.31 was also attached to the Institute for unpaid payroll taxes, and $50,000 on July 4 for unrelated business income.
In May of this year, URI hired Providence attorney John A. MacFayden to provide additional legal counsel for the university to assess its other public and private partnerships and to identify potential vulnerabilities.
“From the URI standpoint, what we need to do in our broad range of partnerships is make sure that we are following our own processes, have appropriate oversight and accountability, and doing things in the way we should to ensure those partnerships are successful,” said Dooley. “I don’t want to curtail our partnerships as a result of one bad experience.
“It is important for us to be at the table with non-profits, businesses, and communities from all over the state,” he added. “We are constantly developing partnership agreements and want to make sure we are doing that right.”
Dooley did state that the process for MacFayden to review the university’s partnerships has taken longer than expected since his hiring in May.
“It has taken longer than I originally wanted because we discovered we had to very carefully tailor the scope for [MacFayden] because we have so many relationships and agreements out there,” said Dooley. “We want to focus on the ones that are most likely the most complex, and we need to make sure we are doing it exactly the right way.”
Dooley also touched upon his feelings regarding the planned combination of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (RIBGHE) and the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education (RIBRESE) them into one state Board of Education.
“I don’t personally have a lot of direct knowledge about who will be on the new board or ideas on how it will function,” said Dooley. “It is an unusual model to have a single board for both k12 and higher education. Most states have looked at it and thought those two areas of education have such distinct needs and governance that it is better handled in two separate boards.”
Dooley expressed his concern for the significant workload that the new Board of Education, which is slated to become official in January, will assume for both primary and higher education.
“URI is an over $750 million annual operation when you count everything in, and if you look back at the agenda for the current board of governors, you’ll see an awful lost of stuff there that isn’t really replicated on a k12 agenda,” said Dooley. “So the new board will have to figure out a way to function to deal with everything we’re bringing forward in a typical year, which is a huge list ranging from intellectual property concerns, research, global operations in oceanography, and major capital projects.”
“Our commitment is to do our best to make that work, but we will have a lot of work in front of us in a very short period of time to make this functional,” he added. “We want to make sure that the board is responsive and quick.”
The RIBGHE has been accused in recent weeks by representatives from URI’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for delaying a decision to agree upon a new contract until the new board of education is formed. The 700-member faculty has been without a contract since July 1, 2011, and negotiations over the past year have been tense.
"Since the Board of Governors has continued to act dishonorably and unfairly, in violation of state law, one must conclude that [It] Is stalling so that the successor Board of Education will be forced to handle a serious problem, that [it has] created," said Frank Annunziato, Executive Director of URI’s AAUP, in September.
The State Labor Relations Board received a complaint filed by the URI AAUP, but determined preliminarily that further investigation is needed as to whether action can be taken against the RIBGHE for its negotiations and rejection of the faculty contract. A meeting that was scheduled for October 23 to review the case was postponed and no date future date has been set.