USF shutters embattled Global Initiative think tank
TAMPA — After months of internal turmoil and a broadcast investigation that raised questions about spending, the University of South Florida has decided to shutter an on-campus research center — effective immediately.
Leaders in the College of Arts and Sciences had been reviewing the Global Initiative for Civil Society and Conflict for “a number of months to determine whether this is an effort worth continuing,” USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said in an email.
Their review of the center’s productivity and viability — highlighted in a recent Fox 13 Investigates segment — raised questions about its spending and vague purpose. Last week, USF officials made the call to close its doors altogether.
Fox 13 found that the think tank operated on more than $4 million in federal and state funding but did not provide a clear breakdown of where that money went. Reporter Tina Jensen said it was unclear what exactly the center did and how it measured its goals.
An analysis began last summer, and the internal review revealed issues of oversight and muddled objectives, Fox found.
"Director does not clearly understand university financial policy and procedure and will continue to make poor decisions without training and accountability," read a report from Florida Institute of Government director Angela Crist, according to Fox.
Four anonymous complaints about the think tank were also reviewed by USF Audit and Compliance. They included concerns that employees were getting paid without showing up for work, even taking vacations on company time, and that leaders were seriously mismanaging funds.
All four complaints were found to be unsubstantiated.
The initiative was formed within the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011 “to support several strategic priorities for the university, including building globally-integrated partnerships and conducting high impact research for positive change in society,” Wade wrote in an email.
David Jacobson was its founding director. He and one other remaining employee will keep working at USF.
Jacobson will continue researching civil societies and conflict, but he’ll do it without an administrative role, Wade said. He will remain a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, making $155,528 — which reflects the loss of his $22,500 yearly administrative stipend.
Adib Farhadi will remain a research assistant professor in the College of Arts & Sciences.
A blurb on the College of Arts and Sciences website calls the Global Initiatives center “an incubator of innovative ideas and practices for nurturing robust communities and for tackling civil conflict around the world.”
The Global Initiative’s page on the USF site is now unavailable.
USF trustees reacted to the Fox investigation at a board committee meeting Nov. 17. Trustee Jordan Zimmerman read them findings from the station's report, lamenting the potential damage to USF's image.
"When the media reports it, people in their mind contort how they see our brand," he said. "Maybe there's a better way to handle it than we have in the past."
Trustees chimed in, saying that better efforts need to be made to get ahead of stories with the potential of embarrassment.