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Auditors: UConn overpaid Herbst $355k during sabbatical

UConn President Susan Herbst claps during the opening ceremony at the new Hartford campus in 2017.
Kyle Constable
CT Mirror
UConn President Susan Herbst claps during the opening ceremony at the new Hartford campus in 2017.

The University of Connecticut overpaid one employee by more than $355,000 for a one-year sabbatical, according to state auditors.

While the audit does not identify the employee, former president Susan Herbst’s income of $711,027 exactly matches the figure stated in the audit, according to state payroll data.

Herbst was on sabbatical following her departure as president in July 2019. She returned to teaching a year later.

Late Tuesday, UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz confirmed that the audit was referring to Herbst and said her sabbatical was part of her contract, approved by the Board of Trustees and reviewed by Human Resources, and not subject to the by-laws that other employees must follow.

“With respect to President Herbst, her employment contract entitled her to a year-long sabbatical leave to be paid at her full base presidential pay,” Reitz said. “The president’s compensation is set by the board directly in their employment agreement, including for their post-presidency, and the sabbatical terms outlined for faculty in the bylaws would not apply in this case.”

Reitz added that “President Herbst was on sabbatical as a former president, rather than in her capacity as a faculty member. This is consistent with past presidents who were similarly paid a full year leave at their presidential base salary.”

The audit released Tuesday criticizes the university for, among other things, not following its own by-laws when it comes to sabbaticals for professors and other university employees.

The audit also pointed out it was not the first time the university’s sabbatical practices had been questioned by auditors. Reitz said UConn plans to clarify its policy going forward.

“In addition to ensuring policy is adhered to with respect to faculty taking sabbatical leave, the university will also take steps to clarify the distinction between faculty sabbaticals and leaves that may be afforded by virtue of an employment agreement,” Reitz said.

UConn’s bylaws state that employees can either take a sabbatical for one semester at their full pay or for two semesters at half their normal salary.

Auditors found that at least two university employees were granted a full year of sabbatical leave while collecting their full salary. One of those employees was reportedly paid $711,027, and the other received $197,298. The university overpaid the employees roughly $355,514 and $98,649, respectively, the audit said.

Stories that were published around the time of Herbst’s departure noted that her employment contract enabled her to take a year-long sabbatical prior to returning to a campus of her choosing to teach.

That employment contract, which was unanimously approved by the UConn Board of Trustees in December 2014, specifically states that Herbst “shall be entitled to a year of sabbatical at the conclusion of her presidency” and said that she would be compensated based on the salary scale that was included in the agreement.

The contract also says, however, that Herbst’s sabbatical would be taken “in accordance with university policy.”

Herbst did not respond to questions that were sent via email by the CT Mirror. But in 2020, she told the Daily Campus — UConn’s student newspaper — that her sabbatical was not any different from sabbaticals taken by other university employees.

“It was a very normal professor kind of sabbatical — nothing special,” Herbst said.

Report: Four faculty members didn’t return after sabbatical

The bylaws also require that employees return to active service at the university for at least one year upon completion of a sabbatical. Those employees who do not fulfill this requirement must return amounts paid to them during the leave in accordance with UConn’s Sabbatical Leave Request Form. The bylaws also require employees to provide a written summary of the work done during the leave to the officer who approved the leave.

But the audit found that four faculty members did not return to active service for a minimum of one year following their sabbatical leave. The university paid $289,569 to these employees during their sabbatical leaves. The four employees never repaid the university when they did not return, and the university never sought repayment.

The audit also hints that the issue with sabbaticals may be much deeper, because the school issued 327 sabbaticals over the three-year period of the audit, from 2019-2021, and they reviewed only 15 of them. UConn paid more than $10.7 million to employees on sabbatical during that time.

“Two exceptions out of fifteen samples is over 13%. Our hope is management will be concerned enough to take corrective action, especially if that 13% exception rate carries across a population of more than 300 sabbaticals,” State Auditor Clark Chapin said.

School officials did not dispute the audits findings, responding only that “the University agrees with this recommendation and will develop a refreshed and appropriate approval process.”

This story was originally published by The Connecticut Mirror.

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