CAMPUS, NEWS

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: President Frederick denies retaliation against embezzlement ‘whistleblower,’ can’t confirm total amount stolen from Howard University

Investigation led to firing of six staff; at least one paying restitution

By: Jazmin Goodwin, Editor-In-Chief (@TheCozyJAZ)

After Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick released a statement acknowledging financial aid impropriety at the university, he spoke to The Hilltop about the how the embezzlement had been investigated as well as the frustration and disappointment expressed by student and community members, a number of whom called for his resignation. A large group of students occupied the Administration Building Thursday afternoon, and the leaders declared their intention to stay there until student demands are met. As of Sunday morning, they were still inside.

The President’s statement came after allegations were made in post on Medium.com by the author “Veritas 1867,” which included screenshots of financial aid records and accusations that $1 million had been stolen from the university. The post, which has since been removed, also accused Frederick of retaliating against the student who shared information about the financial aid funding improprieties.

Frederick’s  statement to the Howard University community provided a timeline of the potentially criminal activity and how it has been addressed:

  • 2007-2016: University grants given to university employees who already received tuition remission
  • December 2016: President Frederick “was alerted” to the misappropriation of funds; an outside auditor, RSM, begins its investigation into the situation
  • May 2017: RSM investigation concluded
  • July 2017: President Frederick self-reported fund misappropriation to the U.S. Department of Education
  • September 2017: Six Howard University employees fired for “gross misconduct and neglect of duties” after the conclusion of another investigation. Frederick does not rule out potential of criminal charges being filed against former employees
  • March 2018: Third Coast Higher Education, an outside firm hired to investigate whether federal funds were misappropriated, has not, to date, found that federal funds were taken
  • March 27, 2018: Medium post by “Veritas 1867” published
  • March 28, 2018: Hilltop requests interview with President Frederick for comment and confirmation of information published on Medium.com
  • March 28, 2018: President Frederick releases public statement about fund misappropriation

“It’s unfortunate the way that it got exposed,” Frederick told The Hilltop, adding that his intent was always to share the results of the investigation with the public. “But I also didn’t want to compromise the investigation. Going public may have resulted in people compromising the investigation by altering documents and we couldn’t afford to have that happen.”

The investigation led to the termination of six financial aid employees.

Frederick said that while changes have been made in light of the audit and other reports, there remains more to do. “We are still drawing conclusions from that report for moving forward,” he said. Next steps could include more changes in the financial aid system as well as working with lawyers and law enforcement officials on decisions about possible criminal charges.  

Frederick said he did not see the post on Medium.com. “We had prepared a public statement that we’ve had on boiler plate since around July/August,” he said. “And since we were investigating the federal aspect of this, we had to move forward with getting that investigation done. Some of the same employees that were fired, we had to make sure they weren’t involved on the federal side of the issue as well.”

While Frederick confirmed that he knew the numbers that had been reported—$1 million—he could not confirm the accuracy of that figure because at first the investigation looked specifically at university institutional grants, or monies that do not come from donors or the federal government. The secondary investigation, he said, delved deeper into whether federal funding had been taken illegally. The Hilltop will continue to work to confirm the total funds that were taken as well as the source of those funds.

An additional story was posted to the “Veritas 1867” Medium account stated that a former student met with President Frederick and the Student Ombudsman, Calvin Hadley, to share information about the misappropriation of financial aid funds. The student alleged that Frederick and others at Howard blackballed him after the meeting.

Frederick denied those allegations and shared that the student with whom he met first discussed personal academic issues, then, as he was getting up to leave, showed Frederick the evidence of financial aid impropriety.

“Just to be clear, the investigation was ongoing at the time that I met with the student,” Frederick told The Hilltop. “The data he showed me was already involving people that I knew and we were already investigating.”

Frederick said that the two issues brought to his attention were not related.

“I let him know that he could go back to the school and have a conversation and an engagement with them [teachers], and I also did not let the school know anything about what he shared with me so that there wouldn’t be any retribution or retaliation.”

In a second statement sent to the Howard University community on March 28, Frederick addressed the issue of retaliation directly.  

“I encourage anyone who witnesses these behaviors to call our compliance and ethics helpline (202) 238-2479. Retaliation against any student or other member of our campus community for reporting wrongdoing will not be tolerated. Please know that we take malfeasance, fraud, and other forms of unethical behavior on campus seriously and address them swiftly.”

How We Got Here:

The story of the alleged $1 million dollar financial aid scandal gained widespread attention March 27, when the student activist group HU Resist shared the story on Twitter: “The long held suspicions that our university is stealing money from us have been confirmed. We deserve better. We demand better.  It time to take back our university.” The group included the hashtags #StudentPowerHU and #FrederickMustResign.

On March 25, HU Resist had taken to Twitter to release a list of nine demands, primarily revolving around housing, tuition, sexual assault and other issues the group said need to be addressed immediately. The post also called for Frederick’s resignation.

“It is difficult,” Frederick told The Hilltop. “Every day, I am trying to do a better job. I engage the Board all the time about my willingness to step aside if they feel that somebody else will fit better. I also have a willingness to do that. The reality is, whether it’s me or someone else, these problems exist.”

Frederick, a Howard University alumnus, called the situation “deeply painful.” “We are a resource-strapped institution, and I am sure that [my predecessors] were diligent,” he said. “It is my responsibility to fix [problems that existed before my arrival]. What we’re doing is trying to systematically go through the cycle of trying to address all of these things. It takes time to do that.”

Frederick said that, looking forward, actions will speak louder than words. “The single most important thing is performance,” he said. “People have to see things getting better, and that only happens with time.”

Board of Trustees Chairman Stacey J. Mobley released a statement stating that they fully support President Frederick’s “continuous progress on the critical issues facing our campus community.”

 

March 30, 2018