URI Office of Housing, Residential Life strengthening policies, procedures following state audit

R.I. Office of Internal Audit releases 23-page report on University housing operations

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KINGSTON, R.I. January 5, 2017 – The University of Rhode Island’s Office of Housing and Residential Life has taken a number of immediate actions to address issues outlined in reports submitted November 30 to URI from Rhode Island’s Office of Internal Audit.

A division of the state’s Department of Administration, the Office of Internal Audit released the report today. The University submitted its responses Dec. 20. The Office of Internal Audit found no criminal violations.

In general, the Office of Internal Audit cited URI’s housing office for failing to abide by its own policies and procedures and in some cases for a lack of policies in the following areas: access to administrative systems and software; fire, health and safety inspections, particularly in reporting and documenting violations; formal operating procedures for a self-supporting auxiliary unit of the University; free housing and housing waivers; hiring processes for student employees; and reconciling revenue between housing and the University.

The Office of Housing and Residential Life has already begun addressing many of the issues and will continue to focus its efforts on improving the on-campus experience for the students of URI.

“I want to assure our students, indeed the entire URI community, and all Rhode Islanders that we are already responding to the issues raised in this audit so we can restore confidence in an operation essential to the successful development of our students throughout their careers here at URI,” said Kathy Collins, newly-appointed vice president for Student Affairs, the division that oversees student housing at URI.

“We recognize that the audit is not an independent event; instead it is an opportunity for us to enhance the services we provide to the URI community,” Collins said.

Following concerns expressed by housing employees in 2015, the University began its own investigation, which was reassigned to the state audit office in June 2016 when a number of internal audit units at state agencies, including URI, were closed.

As a result of the University’s probe and the subsequent state review, the University learned that it did not have the appropriate budget approvals to bill about 1,200 resident students for housing in a renovated residence hall, a rate higher than a non-renovated hall. The students were charged an appropriate renovated rate, but without following the proper URI budget approval process, the rate should never have been billed. The lack of budget approval to charge the higher rate amounted to an approximately $670,000 overcharge for those students in the 2015 – 2016 academic year.

URI’s Office of Housing and Residential Life has identified those individuals who were overbilled and will notify them on Friday, Jan. 6 that they will receive a refund or a credit toward any outstanding monies due to the University. In addition, the housing office will develop internal controls to ensure rates are consistent with those advertised in relation to both the occupancy management system as well as the rates approved through the University budget process.

In a letter accompanying the report, Office of Internal Audit Chief Dorothy Z. Pascale, said the purpose of the report was to determine if URI’s housing office’s internal processes are performed efficiently and effectively, in accordance with established policies and procedures, statues and adequate controls. The office may follow up within one year of the report’s release.

“We would like to express our sincere appreciation to the staff of the Department of Housing and Residential Life for the cooperation and courtesy extended to the members of our team during the course of this audit,” Pascale said in her letter.

URI Vice President Collins, in a letter sent as part of URI’s responses, thanked Ms. Pascale’s team for helping “us in meeting our goals of providing high quality service to the URI community and the state of Rhode Island.”

She praised the audit team for its professionalism and the level of detail provided in the report.

“We will use the results of the audit to strengthen our commitment to the creation of an efficient and effective operation that is focused on providing outstanding housing in an inclusive environment where students can be academically successful,” Collins said.

These are among some of the actions being taken by URI’s Division of Student Affairs:

  • Review of Housing and Residential Life staff assignments.
  • URI students assigned to Aldrich, Burnside, Coddington, Dorr, Ellery and Hopkins halls will receive a credit equivalent to the overcharge for the time they were assigned to these halls.
  • Formal policies and procedures are being adopted and implemented in every unit of the department to address the audit findings.
  • An external evaluation of the housing office will be conducted by the Association of College and University Housing Officers in June 2017 to measure progress and identify any additional improvements that may be needed.