In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, the deans said Howard’s external auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, had cited “grave concern about the quality of fiscal decision-making” recently as it terminated its work for the university. Above all, the deans blamed the “fiscal direction” of Robert M. Tarola, an independent contractor who serves as the university’s senior vice president for administration, chief financial officer and treasurer.
“We believe this direction places the very survival of the University at risk,” the deans wrote in the June 6 letter addressed to Howard trustees.
Howard President Sidney A. Ribeau rejected the allegations, saying the university is making tough decisions to secure its future and remains in strong shape.
“There is not any kind of mismanagement administratively or financially that is damaging the university,” Ribeau said in an interview Saturday. “Unequivocally.”
Ribeau said the 10,000-
student university has taken aggressive steps since he took office in 2008 to shore up its financial affairs.
The allegations from Howard’s academic deans provide a window into a debate seething within one of the nation’s premier historically black universities as it grapples with federal budget cuts and high hospital expenses. Revenue shortages this year, including a loss of tuition from an unexpected drop in enrollment, led the university to slash spending.
Debate over Howard’s situation burst into public view June 7 with the disclosure of a letter from Board of Trustees Vice Chairwoman Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, in which she said the school was “in genuine trouble.” Three days later, Board Chairman Addison Barry Rand responded in a statement that Howard “remains academically, financially and operationally strong.”
On Saturday, Robert L. Lumpkins, a Howard trustee, said the university has begun a search for a long-term CFO. But Lumpkins and Ribeau defended the performance of Tarola, a financial consultant who has held the position through a month-to-month contract since 2010, an arrangement unusual in higher education.
“My view is that the university is in the best financial condition that it has been in in the last five years,” Lumpkins said.
Tarola said PricewaterhouseCoopers served as Howard’s external auditor for seven years but declined this year to seek reappointment. The firm did not state a reason, Tarola said. He said PwC told university officials “there was no integrity concern.”
In October, after an audit, PwC reported finding “certain deficiencies in internal control over financial reporting” at Howard that it considered “material weaknesses.” In March, it issued a “material weakness” caution about aspects of “internal control over compliance” after an audit of government-funded programs at the school.