LSU to give art students refund

School of Art wrongly charged at least $63,000 in fees

LSU’s College of Art and Design, on Friday, will begin refunding more than $63,000 to 620 current and former students who were unlawfully charged fees for art courses dating back to 2010.

The refunds partially validate claims made by former digital arts instructor Margaret Herster, who filed a lawsuit last month alleging that LSU fired her after reporting what she called the School of Art’s theft of more than $75,000 from students.

Herster’s lawsuit, filed in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, triggered a review from LSU’s Office of Internal Audit, which ultimately determined that the School of Art charged students a collective average of $28,000 each year in unapproved course fees going back several years.

Unapproved fees are charges that haven’t been approved by the state Legislature.

The audit found that students, who presumably didn’t know the fees hadn’t been approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors or the Louisiana Legislature, were directed to provide their signature to indicate consent.

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 further 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, three days before the document was released publicly, LSU System President William 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.

Alkis Tsolakis, dean of LSU’s College of Art and Design, notified students of the refunds late last week. LSU spokesman Herb Vincent said both former and current students will receive refunds.

LSU’s announcement was warmly received by Herster and her attorney Stephen Haedicke, who called the refund “an acknowledgement” of wrongdoing.

Herster’s whistleblower lawsuit claims that School of Art administrators routinely misused funds, spending the money on iPads, Apple computers, scanners and other accessories for faculty members rather than for classroom materials.

She further claimed she was sexually harassed numerous times, denied equal pay compared to her male counterparts and that less-qualified instructors were routinely promoted over her.

Herster is seeking reinstatement of her job and a compensation package

LSU general counsel Shelby McKenzie has said the claims in the lawsuit will be investigated and handled appropriately.