The Austin American Statesman's Brian Davis is reporting that UT Athletics Academic Adviser Randa Ryan used university funds to purchase approximately $22,000 of merchandise over six years from a store that she owns.
Ryan sought no competitive bids for any of these purchases but received approval from UT Business Manager Ed Goble after she inquired on at least one occasion as to whether this was appropriate behavior.
Generally, if you have to ask...
From the Statesman article:
The handbook’s Section 7.3 on ethics specifically addresses self-dealing. "An employee may not transact any business in an official capacity with any business entity of which the employee is an officer, agent, or member, or in which the employee owns a substantial interest," the handbook states.
UT Athletics Spokesman Nick Voinis pointed to the next passage as a rationale for Ryan's behavior:
UT athletic department spokesman Nick Voinis said the purchases were all acceptable and pointed to Section 7.4 in the UT purchasing handbook. For purchases up to $5,000, it says, "Competitive quotes are encouraged but not required. A department may solicit a quotation from a single source and issue a purchase order at the department’s discretion." For purchases over $5,000, at least three competing quotes must be obtained
This is an absurd response by a department clearly not much accustomed to explaining themselves.
A plain reading of English and contextual intent doesn't mean 7.4 absolves the ethical requirements imposed by 7.3.
Passage 7.3 expressly forbids self-dealing. Period.
7.4 speaks to the financial trigger of single source purchasing and discretionary purchasing beyond the requirements imposed by 7.3. Clearly, 7.4 does not relieve one of the burden of adhering to 7.3. If it did, 7.3 would expressly allow self-dealing under the $5000 threshold. Or 7.3 would not exist at all.
Bellmont's official response hinges upon the notion that "discretion" means a blank check to do as thou wilt under the $5000 trigger. No. Plainly, no. Otherwise, set the employee handbook on fire and set up an altar to Bernie Madoff in the lobby.
Additionally, the fact that Ryan "discounted" items specifically to fall under the $5000 trigger (with approval from above) is suggestive of purposeful manipulation of the spirit of the law, if not its intent.
Sadly, Bellmont's official explanation reveals more cultural rot than Ryan's behavior (which is more inadvisable than gross, a small window into a larger world) and is indicative of a larger trough mentality where they write their own rules with a tacit "understanding" of how things really work - a capacity for entitlement and self-justification that would make a Beltway insider blush...
Or nod in appreciation.
The added complication is that Randa Ryan is, in fact, extraordinarily good at her job. Her quantifiable and subjective record is flawless with results that speak for themselves. She saved the Texas basketball and baseball programs from doom and has excelled at maxing out APR requirements while also growing the actual learning environment at Texas.
I know individual athletes who credit her with kindling a love of learning in them that they did not know they possessed.
That she was affirmed in minor financial gamesmanship by other Bellmont employees - and then clumsily excused by the departmental mouthpiece with utter nonsense - is not particularly surprising. $150 throw pillows and $3250 writing desks are a tiny portion of a larger culture of institutionalized waste; employees clearly accustomed to taking their skim off of the vast budget provided by Texas fans and athletes.
Sacrificing or ham-handedly disciplining Ryan - a hard-working and gifted employee - for embodying, on a rather minor scale, a larger culture of gluttony isn't productive and merely sets up a convenient fall-girl for deeper mismanagement and misplaced values.
If anything, this is a message to Texas AD Steve Patterson. Get a firm grip on the scruff of the neck of this athletic department and introduce them to the real world of basic ethics and shift the culture to one of fiscal responsibility and reasonable probity from entitlement and an organizational inability to comprehend a plainly written employee handbook.
Get things sorted out at home before setting your eyes on China.
Of course, the more interesting question is why reporter Brian Davis and the Austin American Statesman suddenly decided an open records request on Ryan's purchase history was needed. Is this purely coincidental to the major shake-ups of a new football coach, new AD and old employees fearing exposure of their own bad habits during the Dodds/Brown days?
Does the Statesman simply have uncanny journalistic intuition?
Who tipped them off?
Was it simply an honest Bellmont broker weary of departmental waste?