In Margaret Herster’s lawsuit filed in state District Court, the digital art instructor says the art program illegally charged students course fees that hadn’t first been approved by the Legislature as required by law.
The lawsuit also alleges School of Art administrators routinely misused other funds, spending the money on iPads, Apple computers, scanners and other accessories for faculty members rather than for classroom materials.
LSU System President and Baton Rouge Chancellor William Jenkins said they couldn’t comment because of the pending litigation.
Herster’s allegations are supported in a Jan. 10 report by LSU’s Office of Internal Audit.
The audit found the School of Art charged students a collective average of $28,000 each year in unapproved course fees going back several years.
Students, who presumably did not know the fees hadn’t been approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors or the Legislature, were directed to “provide their signature to indicate consent,” the report says.
The audit also took a sampling of purchases made during fiscal years that ended in 2011 and 2012.
The sampling identified roughly $20,000 in purchases for high-end electronics that the School of Art funded with money that was supposed to be used for classroom materials.
The audit found the School of Art misused more than $130,000 in funds in both 2011 and 2012.
In a letter to the auditor dated Jan. 7, Jenkins agreed with the findings and provided a corrective action plan calling for stricter controls and additional training for management staff to be finalized by March 31.
Herster’s lawyer, Stephen Haedicke, said that while his client’s official termination date isn’t until May, her university email has been cut off, she’s been stripped of her university rights and privileges and been banned from returning to work.
Herster is seeking reinstatement of her job and compensation from LSU.
“LSU was violating the law by imposing illegal course fees, and she was absolutely fired for reporting that,” Haedicke said. “She believes strongly in service to her students. She believes she blew the whistle on her students’ behalf.”