Tone at the Top: Foundation for Success - Part 3


Past blog posts have emphasized the importance of control environment and conflict of interest reporting. Conditions at Georgia Tech this past summer provide a case study in why these themes are important.

No university wants publicity like this: “Four top Georgia Tech officials out amid internal investigations.” Georgia Tech lived it when several senior administrators enriched themselves thinking no one was paying attention or by pulling rank to get their way.

Because Georgia Tech had already suffered multiple high-profile procurement card frauds in recent years, one would think its ethics radar would have been set to high. Alas, here’s the lede to a piece by Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) columnist Bill Torpy:

What a long, strange ethical trip it's been for the Ramblin' Wreck.

AJC columnist Bill Torpy

Coming to Light

I’ll provide links to articles with more details, but here’s the positions and ethical lapses involved (all four officials resigned or were terminated):

  • Executive vice president of administration and finance – Took a paid position on the board of a vendor and steered millions in business to the vendor. 
  • Vice president of campus services – Used a vendor payment intended for student outreach to obtain a football luxury box for personal use and hired a friend in a bogus $100K do-nothing job.
  • Senior vice president and director of Georgia Tech Research Institute – Authorized spending over $1 million of federal funds on “morale” events for employees and their families (Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags, Atlanta Braves game and other outings).
  • Executive director of parking and transportation services – Appearance of conflicts of interest with vendors and did private consulting on university time.

As covered last time, the trickle-down effect of "Tone at the Top" does not imply the actions of a few bad actors corrupt the entire organization. There are usually other employees who suspect what's going on who have the best interests of the organization in mind; aka the "Mood in the Middle." That’s what happened at Georgia Tech. A tip through its ethics and compliance hotline set the wheels in motion to discover the fraud.

News Headlines

Atlanta Journal-Constitution article with the headline:

Four top Georgia Tech officials out amid internal investigations

And the Bill Torpy column:

Torpy at Large: Georgia Tech's long, hard road to finding ethics

The column was initially titled "For years, scammers and hoodwinkers had thrived at Tech." You may see remnants of the former title when viewing its web page.

Update - May 10, 2019

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an update about the environment at Georgia Tech:

After Ethical Lapses, Georgia Tech Surveyed Campus Culture. The Results Weren't Pretty.