August 7, 2013
By Stephanie West
State University at Albany (U-Albany) officials failed to consistently follow guidelines for sabbatical leaves and granted questionable paid leave to several employees. The unnecessarily costs at SUNY amounted to over $1 million according to an audit released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
DiNapoli’s auditors reviewed a sample of 55 sabbatical leaves that took place from Sept. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2011 for 53 employees during that time. Auditors found that 15 employees took sabbatical leaves costing $396,581 that did not comply with SUNY or U-Albany policies. This could be the tip of the iceberg with questionable or illegal expenses ranging into the millions.
Sabbatical leaves are granted to academic employees and administrative officers to promote professional development. According to SUNY’s Board of Trustees’ policies and SUNY’s collective bargaining agreement with professors, SUNY employees are required to return to service for one year after completing their sabbaticals and must complete an activity and accomplishment report showing the results of their time away. If an employee does not return to the campus to work for the required year after taking a sabbatical, U-Albany can take steps to recover the employee’s sabbatical compensation. Also, employees on sabbatical are supposed to receive no more than 50 percent of their annual salary.
There were many flagrant violations of policy and SUNY took no action. For example, DiNapoli’s auditors found one employee took sabbatical leave and went to a foreign country where he eventually found a full-time job. The employee never returned to U-Albany for the required minimum period, even though he received $38,082 in pay. U-Albany did not recover the money paid to this employee.
“U Albany did not properly monitor sabbaticals of some employees and granted questionable leave for other employees, calling into question the benefit that taxpayers and the university have actually received from the use of paid leaves,” DiNapoli said. “The State University of New York, together with its campuses, needs to strengthen its leave policies and make sure taxpayer and tuition dollars are not being wasted. The Comptroller’s Office made recommendations to SUNY on sabbaticals and other paid leave 22 years ago that have still not been implemented.”