Daniel Ruth

Wheels come off high-paid career

For want of a cheap bicycle, a reputation and perhaps a career have been lost.

And oh yeah, there's the $384,280 paycheck, too. Geez, for that kind of money, instead of involving himself in an apparent five-finger discount of a struggling student's bike, Abdul Rao could have bought a Schwinn franchise.

Instead, Rao, who until a few short days ago had the hotsy-totsy ivory tower title of the University of South Florida's senior associate vice president of health as well as senior associate vice president of research, is now nothing more than an out-of-work dolt. All because of a modest bicycle.

Dr. Rao went from having a business card the size of a campaign yard sign to perusing Monster.com in the time it took for him and his occasional manservant, Victor Waiters, to skulk into a loading dock at the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute on the USF campus and take a student's bike.

And thus Tampa's low-rent version of Vittorio De Sica's The Bicycle Thief was set into motion, since Rao and Waiters' peddle-power caper was captured by the building's security camera. And where there is a camera, there is video. And where there is video it is only a matter of time before the whole thing shows up on YouTube. Uh-oh.

And once you are a $384,280-a-year egghead who gets immortalized around the globe assisting in absconding with a student's only means of transportation, you can pretty well guarantee you're going to be branded a complete chucklehead — with a Ph.D., doctor of hubris.

As public relations disasters go this was shaping up as the Bernie Madoff of handlebars. Rao called it a misunderstanding and the bike was returned, but his definition of borrowing is unique.

It was bad enough for Rao that the bike belonged to Christine Dillingham, 22, a pre-med student who also volunteers at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in addition to giving her time to work with cancer patients in Haiti.

The bike had been given to Dillingham by fellow student Tim Boyd, 39, who works as a waiter in order to donate his earnings to the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

Good grief, this was like ripping off Mother Teresa, Mister Rogers and Elie Wiesel.

It also probably didn't help Rao's quickly crumbling image when he claimed he was merely helping Waiters, who apparently does work around the ol' professor's house and has an amazing propensity to keep losing bicycles the USF honcho kept purchasing for him.

A crazy question. Wouldn't it simply have been easier for Rao, who after all was making $384,280 a year, to buy Waiters — a lock?

It turned out Waiters also has a lengthy criminal rap sheet. Or put another way, Jack Ruby had more alibi options than Abdul Rao for assisting Walters in making off with a $100 bike belonging to USF's answer to Florence Nightingale.

For his part, Rao submitted his resignation to the university in return for a $50,000 farewell check, an offer USF officials accepted more readily than Sarah Palin glomming onto a Saks Fifth Avenue credit card from the McCain campaign.

But no sooner had Rao agreed to ride off into the sunset on his Raleigh than the now defrocked paper-pusher decided to rescind his resignation in an attempt to hold on to his cushy job. As you might guess, Rao has about as much chance of being welcomed back to the bosom of USF as Sam Wyche has getting rehired to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Perhaps what this story confirms is that someone like Rao can hold all the high-falutin' academic degrees in the world, with more titles after one's name than a banana republic potentate, and it still doesn't mean that he is all that particularly — smart.

All walks of life demand integrity from employees, and that is especially true in academe where scholars are subjected to peer review to ensure honesty, intellectual veracity — integrity. How did Adbul Rao live up to those standards at the Byrd Center where he faced a simple Ethics 101 question of right and wrong?

If by some bizarre twist of fate Rao were to get his old job back, how would he be able to function in a working environment where his colleagues would clutch their purses to their chest whenever he passed them in a hallway or lock their doors every time they simply went to get a cup of coffee? How could he possibly be taken seriously, or trusted?

Perhaps all is not lost for the artful dodger of the loading dock. Maybe Fagin University is looking for a provost of pilfering.

Wheels come off high-paid career 02/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 5:42pm]

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