A high-profile staff shakeup at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and the University of Texas System follows the release of the findings of a special investigation into the spending habits of Dr. Kern Wildenthal, the medical center's former president.
In November 2011, prompted by questions about possible impropriety raised by Dallas Morning News reporters, the UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa instructed Barry D. Burgdorf, the system's vice chancellor and general counsel, to look into Wildenthal’s travel and entertainment expenses, as well as UT Southwestern's reimbursement practices. An outside firm, Paul Hastings, LLP, was hired to investigate and submit a report.
The report, released today by UT Southwestern and the UT System, found that Wildenthal "exercised questionable judgment in making discretionary spending decisions," including mingling work expenses and vacation expenses on international trips to places such as New Zealand and Barcelona. The investigation also found the university's expense reporting system lacking.
"Dr. Wildenthal had the opportunity to conduct himself in a manner that would fall outside the bounds of reasonable criticism," the report states. "Rather than doing so, he engaged in spending that tested the boundaries of permissible travel and entertainment expenses under the UT System and UTSW rules."
In light of the findings, Wildenthal, who served as president of UT Southwestern from 1986 until 2008, has resigned his current position as assistant to the president, though he will remain a tenured member of the UT Southwestern faculty. He will no longer serve as president of Southwestern Medical Foundation, and he will pay UT Southwestern back for reimbursed expenses that were found to be inappropriate.
Additionally, Robert Rubel, UT Southwestern director of internal audit, has resigned from his position. And the UT System’s chief audit executive, Charles Chaffin, has retired.
In a statement, UT System Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell said, "As a public institution supported by the taxpayers of Texas, it is incumbent upon us to take swift and immediate action to address allegations of impropriety in any area of our operations."
UT Southwestern President Daniel Podolsky released a statement commending Wildenthal for his contributions during his 32 years with the institution so far, and he added that the institution will begin to improve its auditing system immediately.
"UT Southwestern is fundamentally committed to meeting its obligation to serve as a responsible steward of public and philanthropic funds entrusted to support the institution’s core missions of education, research, and patient care," he said.