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Aberrant practices uncovered at center run by UGA's highest paid professor - The Red and Black : Ugalife

Aberrant practices uncovered at center run by UGA's highest paid professor

Nepotism, rules violations plague chemistry annex

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Posted: Monday, July 29, 2013 3:45 pm | Updated: 4:55 pm, Mon Nov 3, 2014.

Rebecca Pruett is an administrative assistant II at the University of Georgia, dealing with such daily tasks as preparing packages, travel reimbursements and filing documents. During the month of June, Pruett was granted permission by her supervisor to do these office duties from home.

Under UGA policies, employees working from home must fill out a Telecommuting Agreement form, which “includes a written justification of business need,” according to UGA’s Human Resources Department. In Pruett’s case, her supervisor — associate chemistry professor Wesley Allen — approved her working from home, but an open records request reveals no Telecommuting Agreement form exists.

During June, both Pruett and Allen worked within the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry — a center directed by Henry “Fritz” Schaefer, the Graham Perdue professor of chemistry. Once the sixth most cited chemist in the world, Schaefer drew in roughly $1.94 million in grants and research funds between fiscal years 2006 and 2010 and earned a salary of $377,084.80 in fiscal year 2012 — making him the highest paid professor and fourth highest paid employee at UGA.

Schaefer is also Pruett’s father.

According to documents obtained by The Red & Black, a question of nepotism and an improper following of UGA policies was revealed within the CCQC, a program which has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars into UGA.

* * *

According to documents, Pruett has been working in her father’s office since August 2002, but it was questioned on July 20, 2012 by another University official. On that day, Charles R. Kutal, associate dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, contacted the CCQC about Pruett’s employment as it relates to the nepotism policy.

In response to Kutal, Scientific Administrative Specialist Linda Rowe, who reports directly to Schaefer, wrote the situation is not a violation of the nepotism policy because “[Pruett’s] immediate supervisor is one level removed from a relative.” Her immediate supervisor works within the CCQC as well as the Department of Chemistry.

But at that time, Pruett’s direct line of supervision vertically ascended through three people to her father, despite UGA’s policy stating: “No individual shall be employed (in a full-time, part-time, temporary, or student worker position) in a department or unit which will result in the existence of a subordinate-superior relationship between such individual and any relative of such individual through any line of authority.” While Rowe wrote that Schaefer does not fall within one level of supervision from Pruett, that exception only applies to those employed on or before Feb. 14, 1990, according to UGA policy. Pruett has worked off and on in her father’s office since 2002 and was hired full time in August 2011, according to documents. The only other exception to hire a relative is approval by “the Board of Regents upon recommendation of the Chancellor as being clearly in the best interest of the Institution and the University System.”

The month following the CCQC’s rebuttal of the nepotism violation, a memorandum of understanding was issued proposing a “temporary transfer” of Pruett from the CCQC to the Department of Chemistry. The move would transfer Pruett’s position to the DoC for as long as Schaefer served as director of the CCQC. If Pruett or Schaefer resigned, thus eliminating the conflict of the nepotism policy, the position would “revert back to the CCC.” CCC is another acronym for Schaefer's center.

Jon Amster, head of the DoC, said as of a year ago, [2012], near the time of the memorandum for position transfer, Pruett’s direct supervisor became Allen. According to Amster, Allen, while being a professor of chemistry, also “happens to be a member of the CCC.” The Red & Black was unable to reach Allen after several attempts.

But Pruett’s employee profile was not removed from the CCQC’s website until July 19, almost 11 months after the initial transfer proposal. And the suggestion for Pruett to work from home during June came from Linda Rowe.

• • •

Rowe filed a letter in support of Pruett’s working from home to Allen dated May 6. In it, Rowe writes Pruett “will be unable to physically come to work during the month of June” and “Rebecca does not have the number of leave days needed to take vacation leave during this time, due to her recent maternity leave.” In the letter of support, Rowe lists Allen’s address as “Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry.”

According to Pruett’s leave report, however, she possessed 16 hours of sick leave at the end of March and 124 hours of annual leave at the end of May. Despite having 17 work days worth of time, Pruett was approved to work from home during June. In a letter from Rowe to Pruett’s coworkers, she wrote Allen “has given his approval for her to work from home during this period” and “she will be allowed to maintain her regular pay hours, during this time.” While working and getting paid from home, Pruett was also given her monthly 10 hours of annual leave.

UGA’s Human Resources Department set several guidelines for employees seeking to work from home. A Telecommuting Agreement form must be signed by both the employee seeking to work from home as well as the employee’s direct supervisor. It’s the department’s responsibility to “maintain copies of the Telecommuting Agreement forms,” according to human resources. But when asked for these records from the DoC and CCQC, Open Records Manager Mitch Clayton wrote “I did not receive any documents from the CCQC or Chemistry in response.”

Other guidelines note which types of jobs are conducive for working from home. And while accountants, architects or programmers/analysts are jobs that lend themselves to work at home, “examples of positions not conducive to a telecommuting situation include an administrative assistant, receptionist, office support position, trades/craft job, housekeeping worker, laboratory specialist, and most health care providers,” according to UGA human resources.

During her month home, Pruett was responsible for working on the department’s website publication’s list, reviewing and requesting travel reimbursements, working on power point presentations and asked to “bring to the office any items unable to be sent by mail. At the same time pick up any items needed to complete for home office.”

Along with being the highest paid professor, Schaefer has the ability to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in travel expenditures. He had $21,299.56 in travel salary for fiscal year 2012 and $24,134.19 in fiscal year 2011, according to Open Georgia.

• • •

Schaefer is among the most accomplished chemists in the world, recognized for 11 major awards, eight honorary journal issues published in his name by both The Journal of Physical Chemistry and Molecular Physics, and was inducted as a fellow into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

He was named “one of seven chemists deserving of a Nobel Prize” by “The Best Schools” and “during the comprehensive period 1981-1997 Professor Schaefer was the sixth most highly cited chemist in the world,” according to his biography. The Science Citation Index indicates that his research had been cited more than 53,000 times.

He’s also well paid for his work. Schaefer has been the highest paid professor on campus for the past five fiscal years, with a high of $390,095.70 in fiscal year 2008.

The Red & Black was unable to reach Schaefer and Pruett after several attempts.

As of July 19, Pruett’s picture continued to appear on the CCQC website under the people section, but it was removed sometime during the week of July 22. Pruett had worked in the same offices as her father, but Amster said last week she was moved to a different building.

She continues to work as an administrative assistant II, as labeled by UGA’s directory.

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  • Jason Statham posted at 7:00 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    Jason Statham Posts: 18

    Everybody that works for the school is overpaid anyway. There is no reason on God's green earth that Dr. Schaefer should be entitled to over 300,000 dollars of taxpayer's money.

  • Faye posted at 5:15 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    Faye Posts: 1

    So, some people think because a professor has won awards then his department does not have to abide by the same rules as other departments at UGA? Correct? Is that the norm?

    It must be a nice place to work. Take a month off, stay at home, still get paid!!! "No need to use leave time because my dad is the boss."

    No wonder UGA workers haven't gotten raises in a few years if this is the way it is done. Way too many takers and not enough producers.

  • want-to-know posted at 12:44 pm on Thu, Aug 1, 2013.

    want-to-know Posts: 1

    There is no story here. The article has a slanted and mean tone. I totally agree with Solidroque.

    Schaefer is among the most accomplished chemists in the world, recognized for 11 major awards, eight honorary journal issues published in his name by both The Journal of Physical Chemistry and Molecular Physics, and was inducted as a fellow into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

    And we are fortunate to have him at UGA.

  • Solidroque posted at 3:45 pm on Tue, Jul 30, 2013.

    Solidroque Posts: 1

    This doesn't seem to be much of a story, although the reporters would like you to think they have done some hard-hitting investigative journalism. The headline would have you believe that there were widespread instances of nepotism and rules violations by the use of the phrase "plagued by". Ms. Pruett has been employed to some extent in the department for 11 years and this is the first time anyone has bothered to make an issue about it. While there may have been some policies that were not followed and need to be corrected, this was certainly not a front page article.
    Why was the information about Dr. Schaeffer's salary and travel expenses included in this story? They had nothing to do with the rest of the story, and they were thrown in among other elements of the article seemingly at random. This is shoddy writing and poor journalism that seems to be more about promoting the writers than discovering the truth.

  • Jason Statham posted at 12:02 am on Tue, Jul 30, 2013.

    Jason Statham Posts: 18

    This is why the school system needs to be privatized