University of Hawai‘i Employee’s Violation of the Fair Treatment law
Resolution of Charge 2021-02 (COMPL-C-18-00352)
From Hawaii State Ethics Comm, November 17, 2021 (excerpt)
The Hawai‘i State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) has resolved a Charge issued against Sarita Rai (“Respondent Rai”), Director, Study Abroad Center (“SAC”), University of Hawai‘i, for alleged violations of the State Ethics Code, Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (“HRS”) chapter 84. …
c) Respondent Rai asserts that she is not in the class of employees subject to mandatory ethics training in HRS § 84-42. Respondent Rai further asserts that she is not required by the University to participate in voluntary ethics training available on the State Ethics Commission’s website and that she has not received training of any kind on the Hawai‘i State Ethics Code.
d) Respondent Rai joined the SAC as a junior faculty member in 1990 and became Director of the SAC in 1995.
e) Beginning prior to Respondent Rai’s hire and becoming Director of the SAC in 1995, and continuing until late 2018, the SAC’s practice was to offer an International Student Identity Card (“ISIC”) for purchase to participants in SAC study-abroad programs.
f) According to its website, the ISIC – produced and distributed by the ISIC Association, a private non-profit organization – “allow[s] students around the world to instantly prove their official student status and access over 150,000 student discounts and offers worldwide.” See ISIC, “Which card is right for you?”, available at https://www.isic.org/cards/.
g) Beginning prior to Respondent Rai’s hire and becoming Director of the SAC in 1995, and continuing until early 2019, the SAC maintained a bank account at First Hawaiian Bank (“FHB”) for ISIC funds (hereinafter, “FHBISIC account”). Respondent Rai did not establish the FHB-ISIC account, nor did she initiate the practice of selling ISICs to participants in the study abroad program; instead, these practices existed before Respondent Rai became Director in 1995. At the time, Respondent Rai was informed and understood that the funds generated from the sale of ISICs to participants were neither SAC funds nor University funds. The FHB-ISIC account was a non-interest-bearing account to support SAC activities. …
k) The actual per-card cost to SAC, when purchased in bulk, was $21.25. Students were charged $25.00 for the ISIC. As such, SAC was left with an excess of funds – in the amount of $3.75 – for each card sold. Approximately 200-250 students participated in SAC programs each year, and most purchased an ISIC through the SAC. 3
l) When Respondent Rai became Director of SAC in 1995, the FHB-ISIC account contained around $50 at most. When the FHB-ISIC account was closed in 2019, the balance was approximately $9,592.53. The balance of funds in the FHB-ISIC account came almost exclusively from the excess per-card funds from students’ purchases of ISICs.
m) As Director, Respondent Rai had access to the FHB-ISIC account directly via a debit card. …
o) From 2015 to 2018, Respondent Rai and SAC staff used FHB-ISIC account funds for roughly two dozen expenditures on food and beverages totaling $4,305.14, including the following:
i. On approximately eight occasions between 2015 and 2018, while Respondent Rai and/or other SAC employees were meeting and dining with representatives from other universities, Respondent Rai authorized the expenditure of funds from the FHB-ISIC account to pay for alcohol. 4
ii. Respondent Rai and/or SAC staff used FHB-ISIC account funds to pay for food and alcohol for SAC’s annual holiday luncheon in 2015, 2016, and 2017. These annual holiday events, held in December, were advertised as “thank you” events for other University staff and SAC volunteers.
iii. Respondent Rai asserts as follows: these events allowed for recruitment of potential faculty advisers and the evaluation of the SAC programs with participants. The recruitment and evaluation are conducted by Respondent Rai and faculty members of the Study Abroad Council who are appointed by the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Faculty Senate. The SAC operates very differently from most study abroad programs in the rest of the United States. Respondent Rai asserts that, in most universities, the study abroad program’s function is contracted out to a third-party that handles all of the details of student involvement. Faculty at those universities have little or no involvement in the study abroad program. However, at the SAC, faculty are an integral component of the study abroad program and are recruited to serve as a Resident Director for a program location.
iv. Respondent Rai further asserts as follows: Resident Directors are required to demonstrate that they have: a) the ability to work well with undergraduate students; b) provide an appropriate syllabus for classes to be taught at the site; and c) detail how their selection as a Resident Director will assist their own individual research endeavors. The faculty applicant must also demonstrate how they will work with the students to assist students gain a better understanding of how another culture operates. Additionally, the applicant Resident Director must provide a confidential reference from their Department Chair which will address the four areas mentioned above. Finally, the Dean of the college of the faculty applicant must sign off on the application before the SAC will review the application. Applying for a Resident Director assignment is not a simple task, given the need to demonstrate competence in the areas mentioned above. Thus, there is a critical need to ensure a steady supply of Resident Director applicants.
v. Respondent Rai further asserts as follows: she works with individual department chairs and deans to smooth the application process. Special presentations are offered to all faculty to assist them in completing a successful application as a Resident Director. However, over the years it has been clear 5 that the most successful recruitment tool is one faculty member working with another faculty member on a one-to-one basis. This can happen in a variety of situations, but the Study Abroad Council and Respondent Rai have determined over the decades that the SAC holiday event, bringing together past Resident Directors and potential Resident Directors has proved to be the best recruitment tool. Respondent Rai and the Study Abroad Council use the annual SAC holiday event to personally thank the Resident Directors and discuss their time on site with them, to recruit Resident Directors for potential new sites, to thank administrators for assisting their faculty and discuss and evaluate the program. This is the business function aspect of the SAC holiday event.
vi. Unlike SAC’s formal information sessions offered once a year in September, the holiday luncheons were invitation-only events for SAC staff, student volunteers, and University administrators, among others, with alcohol, and without a formal program for recruitment.
vii. Respondent Rai used personal funds and personal funds from the SAC Council Chair to pay for the 2018 holiday luncheon after being instructed by her superiors to cease spending any funds from the FHB-ISIC account. …
r) The University conducted its own investigation beginning in 2018 and concluding in late 2020. The University determined that the FHB-ISIC account funds belonged to the University. …
III. Resolution of Charge
Respondent Rai fully cooperated with the Commission’s investigation and has not previously been the subject of a Commission charge.
Given the violations of the State Ethics Code, the Commission believes it is reasonable, fair, and in the public interest to resolve this Charge by (1) issuing this Resolution of Charge, and (2) requiring Respondent Rai to pay an administrative penalty of $5,500 to the State of Hawai‘i. …
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