UI’s revoked business deal just ends up wasting students’ money

The University’s past scandals, including the most recent ones involving former University President Michael Hogan and former chief of staff Lisa Troyer, have made administrators hypersensitive to any potential conflicts of interest.

The University revoked a contract with architecture firm BLDD over a potential conflict of interest.

The ethical concern in this case was the involvement ofJill Maxey, former associate director of planning, in selecting BLDD to renovate the Natural History Building. Jill Maxey’s husband, Bruce Maxey, is a partial owner of BLDD. On July 19, the Chicago Tribune reported that University officials didn’t give the contract’s potential conflict of interest much thought because it had a way of preventing Jill Maxey from aiding her husband’s firm. According to the State Procurement Board, though, awarding a contract to a spouse is a conflict of interest.

The University should be commended for trying to avoid scandal. However, reassigning the contract at this point is detrimental to the University.

Initially, no conflict of interest was seen by awarding the contract to BLDD. When unsure of the presence of a conflict of interest, the University must notify the Procurement Policy Board. The contract was initially awarded in December 2010, and until last spring the board saw no ethical issues with hiring BLDD.

A hearing in May found that Jill Maxey was discussing the contract, which she should not have. In July, the board of trustees followed the recommendations of the procurement board and voided the contract.

The University is not to blame for not spotting the conflict of interest sooner. Upon noticing it, administrators took it to the proper oversight organization, but it took the board almost two years to question Jill Maxey’s involvement in awarding the contract.

The University has already given over $4.6 million to BLDD, which cannot be taken back.

For each month that passes, the University gives BLDD approximately $91,000. To put that in perspective, that’s approximately four in-state students’ tuition, paid each month to an architecture firm — that money then does nothing for the campus. The original renovation budget of $70 million is high, but at least that would have resulted in a newly renovated building that would benefit students.

Given the cost of voiding the contract with BLDD, the University should have continued working with them, as the conflict of interest was not even severe enough for the board to outright prevent the contract from going to BLDD.

Revoking this contract highlights the University’s disturbing trend of wasting money. For example, Troyer received $175,000 in severance pay. Seemingly small payments, like $91,000 per month to BLDD, add up quickly, and it’s students who have to deal with these burdens.

Backing out of the BLDD contract kept the University free from anticipated criticism at the expense of students.