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‘We are not an institution in crisis’

Photo: Sarah Andrews

In the wake of the theft of university funds and the resignation of the provost, Drake President David Maxwell has sought to reassure the campus that the university “is not an institution in crisis.”

In an email sent out to students, faculty and staff last Wednesday, Vice President for Business and Finance Vicky Payseur disclosed information about the misappropriation of funds by a university employee. The email also revealed that “this individual is no longer employed by the University,” and that a police investigation had begun. The suspect, Robert Harlan, 49, was charged in connection with the embezzlement of $470,000 from the university.

As the director of student accounts services, one of Harlan’s most familiar connections to students comes from the billing statement emails he sent. He also collected tuition payments, student fines and student fees.

Six days after news of the missing funds was disclosed, Provost Michael Renner notified university faculty and staff via email of his resignation. In the email, he cited differences in his and Maxwell’s “leadership philosophies.” University officials said the two events are unrelated.

At a faculty Senate meeting April 20, Maxwell said he wanted to stress that the incidents were being handled appropriately and effectively.

“I know from talking to a number of people that two pieces of news like this over a three-week period can be somewhat unsettling,” Maxwell said. “And I do want to assure that we are not an institution in crisis. We are on top of these issues and will manage them as we always do, with transparency and the full engagement of the campus.”

Sophomore and student senator-elect Amanda Laurent said that it is Maxwell’s duty to emphasize positive elements of Drake’s future, even as local headlines have been less than optimistic and sometimes confusing for students.

“President Maxwell is that PR for Drake,” Laurent said. “He’s the face of Drake and he obviously has to say that we’re standing strong.

Newspapers and journalists are going to make it out to be more dramatic than it actually is. I think they’re polar opposites in a way, and in the middle are the students.”

Associate Professor of History Matthew Esposito, however, questioned the transparency of the administration’s dealings in the incidents. Speaking at the Faculty Senate meeting, Esposito called the email notifications “somewhat brash and impetuous.”

Senior Victor Cedeño said he is curious about the events happening in such close proximity, but that he is not concerned about the university hiding any information.

“It’d be nice to know more, I suppose,” Cedeño said. “But other than that, I’m going about my life.”

Despite the fact that students were never notified by email of Renner’s resignation, Laurent said she didn’t think students were expressing any anti-administration sentiments.

“In all honesty, I don’t think students are engaged that much to really care about it,” she said. “I think they’ll be more affected when we start to get a new one (provost).”

Cedeño said students were surprised to learn about the misappropriated funds, but it hasn’t affected daily life or overall campus morale.

“Everybody expressed shock,” he said. “But I think everybody also expects that now and then, someone’s going to screw up.”

Meredith Gallivan, 2010 Drake alumna and Des Moines resident, is a communications project manager at Marsh and McLennan Companies, Inc. She saw the news about Harlan on Facebook. Gallivan said she was familiar with the billing statement emails from Harlan.

“My first thought was, this guy was emailing me every semester saying I still owed $20,” she said. “I just wonder now, did I really owe $20?”

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3 Comments

  1. SignGirl April 25, 2011

    Students don’t care? Insulting.

  2. student April 26, 2011

    Robert Harlan, according to local news sources including Des Moines Register, WHO and KCCI claims the amount Harlan embezzled is $600,000

  3. Matt Nelson April 26, 2011

    @student — This article explains that he is charged with $470,000, although the total amount believed to be embezzled is $600,000. An additional TD article at http://tinyurl.com/3zmx6qv has this information as well.

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