The University of Maryland, Baltimore made $410,000 in "questionable compensation payments" to a senior employee between 2007 and 2009, according to a state audit released Thursday.
The payments, made in addition to the employee's salary, were not disclosed in budget reports to the General Assembly. The university also failed to submit the employee's contract for approval by the attorney general's office or for review by the Board of Regents, the audit charges.
During fiscal 2007, the employee received four payments totaling $350,000 for sabbatical time that was never taken. That payment, approved by UMB President David Ramsay, came on top of a $360,000 salary. The university's policies include no mention of payment for unused sabbatical, the audit says.
The university system's Board of Regents discussed the audit in closed session on Friday and asked Chancellor William E. Kirwan to investigate the situation.
"Chancellor Kirwan and the board take the audit findings very seriously," said spokeswoman Anne Moultrie in a statement. "They are committed to a swift and thorough review, and at its conclusion, will take decisive and corrective actions as necessary."
Ramsay also issued a statement, saying, "The auditors raised a number of points that are receiving immediate attention. I take this audit very seriously and agree with many of the findings. Please be reassured that the leadership of UMB is working diligently to address every issue."
The university and auditors declined to reveal the employee's identity or the school where the person worked. UMB includes many of the state system's most prestigious graduate programs, including its medical and law schools.
The House Appropriations Committee and Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will hold hearings on the audit on Feb. 25 and March 1, respectively.
Bruce Myers, the state's director of legislative audits, said he was surprised by the amount of money given to the employee and by the absence of a policy supporting the payment.
"In that case, the amount far exceeds the range of the other bonuses they were giving," he said. "It was approved by the president but that was about it."
Sabbaticals give professors time away from teaching to conduct research that will benefit the university and enhance their standings in the academic world. But under university guidelines, they're supposed to submit plans for their time away and deliver summary reports of their research activities within six weeks of returning to work. The employee in question did neither.
The employee also received $60,000 in payments for summer research that were approved by a subordinate instead of by a supervisor.
The university distributed $22.8 million in compensation beyond salaries in 2008 and did so without an established policy governing bonuses or payment for summer research, the audit says. The university could not document how bonus sums were determined in many cases, the audit says.
"What surprised [me] was not that they gave out bonuses but that they had no policy to govern it," Myers said.
The university has since created a policy for summer payments and will create a policy on bonus payments by March 1, according to its response to the audit.
The audit also alleges that UMB failed to execute contracts with the Maryland Medical System Corporation in a timely manner and failed to draft a plan to eliminate $2.9 million in deficit balances across several university accounts.
A headline on an earlier version of this story was incorrect in mentioning the University of Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.