Dr. Vistasp Karbhari abruptly resigned from his position as president of the University of Texas at Arlington after results of an investigation into improper ethical and financial dealings with a vendor were made public.
Earlier this month, Karbhari announced his intention to resign on Aug. 31.
But on March 19, University of Texas System Chancellor James Milliken issued a letter stating that Karbhari informed that he would step down “effective immediately.”
“I am grateful to President Karbhari for his commitment to the University of Texas at Arlington and I commend him on the difficult decision to step down now so the university can devote its full attention to the important issues at hard,” Milliken stated.
Milliken also stated that UTA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Teik Lim would take the reins as top administrator for the time being. Milliken said an interim president will be named and a search will launch soon for a new president.
Karbhari’s resignation followed the public release to media outlets of an independent audit report conducted last year for the UT System following an anonymous complaint to the Texas State Auditor’s Office.
The audit firm Protiviti’s investigation found that UTA’s online nursing education program run by an outside vendor violated UTA and UT System policies and state laws.
The investigation into five allegations from the anonymous complaint determined that three contained substantial violations, including conflicts of interest and ethical standards of conduct.
The investigation examined an admissions system for online nursing programs that skirted standard admission procedures and allowed “potentially under-qualified” students to enroll.
“In an attempt to grow admissions at UTA specific to their online nursing program, UTA officials implemented an admissions program called Direct Admit,” the audit stated. “This program allowed online transfer students to enroll in one of the UTA nursing programs without immediately checking all of their underlying academic credentials.
As a result, “the Direct Admit program may have exposed UTA and (the UT System) to potential legal liability,” the report stated.
Other violations involved improper financial dealings between the vendor and UTA officials, including Karbhari. UTA admissions confirmed receiving more than $4,000 in overtime pay from the vendor to fast-track applications for online nursing programs.
Also, the vendor’s close relationship with Beth Mancini, senior association dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, allowed the vendor to be involved in decision-making meetings, including the establishment of the Direct Admit process, according to the report.
Karbhari accompanied the vendor executives on at least two international trips and allowed Mancini “to continue salaried outside employment with the vendor after learning the agreement for (her) services posed a conflict of interest to her duties at UTA. “ She was paid $60,000 for work for the vendor at the same time she was paid by UTA.
Mancini did not disclose her role or payment from the vendor that is required of UTA employees.
“D. Karbhari and other high level UTA officials were made aware of the agreement sometime after its creation but allowed it to continue,” the report stated.
“Dr. Karbhari also appeared to have dismissed UTA personnel complaints about the vendor and allowed the Direct Admit program to move forward without a review of applicable rules.”
The report also stated that the vendor has been paid more than $178 million over the past five years through its contract with UTA and the vendor offered $500 scholarships as incentive to attend UTA.
In a letter responding to the allegations, Karbhari stated that, “UTA categorically denies the allegations made in the report.
“We hoped to provide a short response, but the investigation report is so flawed due to a lack of evidence, insufficient fact gathering, use of factually inaccurate data and mischaracterizations, that it is impossible to give it any credence and should be rejected outright,” he stated.
In addition to his 62-page response, UTA also issued a 36-page response also denying the allegations.
Besides the audit investigation, Karbhari has been accused in a lawsuit of bullying and threatening a top female academic official, who was fired from her position in 2019.
“There are a lot of people whose careers he ended that should not have been ended,” the woman’s attorney Robert E. Goodman Jr. of Dallas told the Fort Worth Business Press. “There were a lot of women victims.”
In his recent announcement of his impending resignation, Karbhari stated “Lisa and I felt it was time for us to take stock and think about our next chapter.
“Thanks to you, the institution is stronger than ever before and is now poised for its next set of great advancements,” Karbhari stated. “Serving you has been the greatest honor of the my career and I am proud of what we have accomplished together.”
Karbhari had been in contention for the position of president with the University of Central Florida but he withdrew his candidacy.