Bowie State to fund retreat School officials deny resort trip for training is frivolous spending

September 12, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

At a time when Bowie State University faces criticism for misspending scholarship funds, President Nathanael Pollard Jr. and at least a dozen employees are planning a two-day, university-paid retreat to a Chesapeake Bay resort.

Highlighted by lunches in the Island Room and a cruise aboard the Harbouritaville, the Sept. 21 and 22 trip to Herrington Harbour Marina Resort in southern Anne Arundel County is a planning and training session for workers who handle public relations and fund raising.

Dan Gill, the school's acting vice president for institutional advancement, said the retreat was needed for staffers -- many of them new to the school -- to set goals and fund-raising strategies.

"Especially at a busy office, you can't do strategic planning, so we feel like we found an inexpensive place not too far from campus," Gill said. "I think a few hundred dollars in training our staff is not a bad investment at this time."

A clerk at the Herrington said yesterday that 20 rooms were reserved by Bowie State, though not all had been filled. Most rooms cost $59 per night, but the school also reserved two $75-a-night deluxe rooms and a handful of $105-a-night rooms with hot tubs.

Gill said the total cost, which will come from his department's travel budget, would be between $2,500 and $4,200.

Though the retreat is coming soon after an audit excoriated Bowie State's fund-raising arm for misusing $182,000, state officials defended the school's effort to regroup -- even if it means spending for a retreat.

"I'm sure one of the first things that went through their mind was: 'Oh my god, I'm going to get criticized for taking this off campus,' " said Lance W. Billingsley, chairman of the University System of Maryland board of regents. "But this is not an example of throwing good resources after bad. Apparently there were overriding considerations to have it off campus."

Added state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller: bTC "Herrington Harbor is very modest."

Still, Gill has been sensitive to the focus on Bowie's finances, and recently changed some of the wording on the event's itinerary. Over the past week, the retreat has been renamed an "off-site staff meeting" and the cruise is being called a "tour by boat."

An audit of Bowie's foundation had criticized a $3,356 cruise for major donors, and some of his co-workers ribbed Gill about planning another "cruise."

"We're not going to do cruises at Bowie State University anymore," Gill said, noting that the "tour" on the resort's boat was free to guests.

Last month, officials with the state's university system -- which oversees Bowie State and 12 other campuses -- issued a blistering audit report that blamed Pollard for much of the misspent $182,000 in scholarship and campus activity money from the school's fund-raising foundation.

Joyce Romanoff Marx, interim director of the foundation, said it was not involved in the retreat and none of its money was being used.

"I sign all the checks," she said. "So I can tell you there's been no unrestricted money spent except to pay bills -- i.e., the auditor."

University System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said staff retreats are common, and Bowie's two-day session is especially appropriate "for a staff that's got a challenge before it.

"It couldn't be a better time because they've got a lot of work to do and they've got to do it together."

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County held its staff retreat this summer, said school spokesman John Fritz. It was a half-day event in a retirement home's conference room.

Gill, a former Pentagon official, said another goal of the retreat is to emphasize the line drawn between the university and the foundation -- and to teach employees not to practice the kinds of questionable spending that have put the foundation in the red.

"My background is contracts and acquisitions, and they teach us not to spend money we don't have," he said, adding that he hopes to move the university beyond the foundation's troubles and refocus on goals. "My position is: We're starting with a new sheet of paper."

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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