USF dean Abdul Rao to resign over stolen bicycle flap

TAMPA — The University of South Florida administrator accused of taking a graduate student's $100 mountain bike announced Tuesday that he will resign.

Dr. Abdul Rao, senior associate vice president for research, signed a legal document stating he will leave his $384,280 post effective Friday.

Contacted by phone, Rao said he is drafting a letter explaining the decision. He declined additional comment.

Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF Medical School, gave faculty members the news during a 5:30 p.m. meeting that lasted an hour and a half, USF spokesman Michael Hoad said.

The development came a week after USF senior Christine Dillingham discovered the bike missing from the loading dock of the Johnnie B. Byrd Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute, where she said she had locked it up at 2 p.m. the day before, Feb. 9.

The day after she reported it stolen, surveillance video surfaced showing Rao and another man arriving at the loading dock and taking a bike away on Feb. 9. By Thursday, the video was on YouTube.

"I think that what happened was far beyond anything I would ever expect to happen from a bike going missing," said Dillingham, who has been contacted by national media over the incident.

"I just basically wanted to see him take responsibility for his actions," she said. "Stepping down seems to show he did that."

Rao, who came to USF in 2006, has said repeatedly that he used poor judgment when he took the bike, which was being loaned to Dillingham by doctoral student Tim Boyd.

Rao said he thought the bike was abandoned, and wanted to loan it to Victor Waiters, whom he described as a "semihomeless" man who does odd jobs for him. Waiters, a 45-year-old Miami man with a lengthy criminal record, needed the bike to get to an office to pick up a replacement ID card and to get to a job site, Rao said.

University police forwarded its investigation to the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office to determine whether charges will be filed. And while campus police say the actual incident would only amount to a misdemeanor, Rao's biggest worries were the possible administrative ramifications.

The university called for a review of Rao's actions to determine what — if any — discipline was warranted.

Hoad said it is unclear what will come of that investigation now that Rao plans to resign. "Discipline becomes irrelevant now," he said.

But Boyd, the bike's owner, said the inquiry into Rao's actions shouldn't be put to bed.

After Rao learned he was captured on tape on Wednesday, Boyd said, Rao called him into his office and pressured him to tell police that the matter was the result of a misunderstanding.

"This (research) is an ethical profession, and Rao is an unethical man," Boyd said. "I don't want him in here in my profession. I hope he's fully investigated, because I would be interested to know what else he's done."

Rao's titles include professor of surgery and molecular medicine, senior associate vice president for USF Health, senior associate vice president for research, and medical director of clinical research for Tampa General Hospital.

Hoad said Rao's decision to resign indicates he will be vacating all of those positions.

His duties have already been temporarily divided up among other administrators, according to a memo from Klasko:

• Patricia Emmanuel, associate dean for clinical research, will be responsible for the office of clinical research and will be medical director of clinical research at TGH.

• Phil Marty, associate vice president for strategic partnerships and government affairs, will supervise the College of Medicine.

• Karen Holbrook, vice president for research and innovation, becomes responsible for research integrity, compliance and comparative medicine.

• Michael Barber, associate dean for graduate and postdoctoral affairs, is responsible for all graduate and postdoctoral issues at the College of Medicine.

Given the financial climate, USF has no immediate plans to conduct a search to replace Rao, Hoad said.

Staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

USF dean Abdul Rao to resign over stolen bicycle flap 02/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 9:11am]

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