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USF pays dean $50K to resign after bicycle theft

TAMPA — The University of South Florida will pay Dr. Abdul Rao $50,000 in exchange for his resignation, according to a settlement agreement released by the university on Wednesday.

Rao, senior associate vice president for research, was captured on surveillance video last week accompanying another man as they took a graduate student's bike from a campus loading dock.

While Rao maintained he was innocently trying to help a "semi-homeless" man by lending him a bike he thought had been abandoned, the incident exploded over the course of a week as police and administrators investigated.

Police forwarded the case to the State Attorney's Office, while USF administrators tried to determine whether his actions deserved discipline.

Now, any discipline is moot.

Under the terms of Rao's settlement, he agrees not to sue the school.

And both he and the USF vow to "refrain from expressing (or causing others to express) to any person or in any forum/medium, any derogatory or negative opinions" concerning one another.

Likewise, USF agrees to release Rao from any legal action arising out of his employment — including any disciplinary proceedings under way as a result of the bike incident on the night of Feb. 9.

Michael Hoad, a spokesman for the university, said attorneys came to the $50,000 figure based on Rao's salary.

Though Rao was making $384,280 including stipends, he had been promised $300,000 annually for four years when he was hired in 2006, according to a Nov. 4, 2005, letter of agreement between Rao and Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine.

The settlement, signed by Rao on Tuesday, extracts USF from that obligation.

Christine Dillingham, the 22-year-old USF student who was borrowing the bike when it was taken, said she was unsettled by news of Rao's parting compensation. "Crime really does pay," she said.

USF police investigated the missing bike after Dillingham and bike owner Tim Boyd filed a report about its disappearance from the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute on Feb, 10.

On Feb. 11, a facilities manager reviewed surveillance video and shared the surprising footage with Boyd, Dillingham and police.

It turned out, the person Rao accompanied on the video was a Miami man with a lengthy criminal record, someone Rao said occasionally stayed at his house and performed odd jobs.

Rao said he always intended that Victor Waiters would return the bike.

And, indeed, it was returned.

Boyd said that the morning he first viewed the video, Rao called him into his office and asked him to tell police it was a misunderstanding.

In the middle of that meeting, Rao's phone rang, and when the administrator got off the phone, he looked up and said the bike was back, Boyd said.

The loading dock video made its way onto YouTube that night. Rao had it removed Friday, but it was soon up again. It has since been removed a second time.

Rao came to USF with stellar credentials, including a 62-page curriculum vita that documents page upon page of publications, while highlighting degrees from the University of Oxford, Boston University and Dow Medical University in Pakistan.

A review of Rao's e-mails indicate he was hoping to gain tenure at USF as recently as last week, though a fellow administrator questioned his ability to do so, given his "absence of recent teaching and research productivity (papers and grants)," which are among the college's tenure criteria.

On Tuesday, Rao sent a letter to the staff, students and faculty of the school formally announcing his resignation, but making no mention of the bike flap.

"My time at USF and USF Health has been intellectually challenging and satisfying to me as a physician, researcher, and a change agent," he wrote. "I sincerely hope that my untiring efforts at this Institution are recognized and that they facilitate the accomplishment of the goals outlined by you and your visionary leader Dr. Steve Klasko."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

USF pays dean $50K to resign after bicycle theft 02/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:12pm]
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