An LSU faculty member is suing the university, alleging that she was fired after reporting what she called the School of Art’s theft of more than $75,000 from students.
In Margaret Herster’s lawsuit filed this month, the digital art instructor says the art program illegally charged students course fees that hadn’t first been approved by the Legislature as required by law.
The lawsuit, filed in the 19th Judicial District Court, also says School of Art administrators routinely misused other funds, spending the money on iPads, Apple computers, scanners and other accessories for faculty members rather than for classroom materials.
LSU System President and Baton Rouge Chancellor William Jenkins said Tuesday that he couldn’t comment because of the pending litigation.
“I’m in a difficult spot,” he said. “Once a lawsuit is filed, it can only go through our counsel.”
LSU General Counsel Shelby McKenzie also declined to comment directly on the allegations Tuesday, saying he hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit, filed on Jan. 22. McKenzie said he wasn’t aware of who exactly was served with the lawsuit and when.
“The university will investigate, the attorney general will assign someone and this will all be handled appropriately,” McKenzie said.
Herster’s allegations are supported in a Jan. 10 report put together by LSU’s Office of Internal Audit.
The audit found that the School of Art charged students a collective average of $28,000 each year in unapproved course fees going back several years.
Students, who presumably did not know the fees hadn’t been approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors or the Legislature, were directed to “provide their signature to indicate consent,” the report says.
The audit also took a sampling of purchases made during fiscal years that ended in 2011 and 2012.
The sampling identified roughly $20,000 in purchases — for high-end electronics — the School of Art funded with money that was supposed to be used for classroom materials.
The audit found that the School of Art misused more than $130,000 in funds in both 2011 and 2012.
In a letter to the auditor dated Jan. 7, Jenkins agreed with the findings and provided a corrective action plan calling for stricter controls and additional training for management staff to be finalized by March 31.
Herster’s lawsuit also claims that she was discriminated against and sexually harassed on numerous occasions since she began working at LSU in August 2009.
Herster said less-qualified instructors were routinely promoted over her, she was denied equal pay compared with her male counterparts and was the victim of sexist and condescending taunts.
Most of her allegations are levied against School of Art Director Rod Parker.
Three phone messages to Parker requesting comment were not returned Tuesday.
Five other people from the School of Art and from LSU Human Resources Management Staff also were named in the lawsuit.
Herster’s attorney, Stephen Haedicke, said that while his client’s official termination date isn’t until May, her university email has been cut off, she’s been stripped of her university rights and privileges and she has been banned from returning to work.
Herster is seeking reinstatement of her job and a compensation package from LSU.
“LSU was violating the law by imposing illegal course fees, and she was absolutely fired for reporting that,” Haedicke said. “She believes strongly in service to her students. She believes she blew the whistle on her students’ behalf.”
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