Audit reveals questionable spending at UT Southwestern




Posted on April 24, 2012 at 10:52 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 25 at 8:52 AM

DALLAS — Dr. Kern Wildenthal spent more than 30 years in leadership positions at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He was medical school dean and then president of the sprawling facility.

Wildenthal retired in 2007, but was most recently assistant to the president and president of the UT Southwestern Medical Foundation. He is also a well-respected philanthropist in Dallas.

Wildenthal stepped down on Tuesday after a 365-page audit of his spending was made public.

Auditors said he made 20 trips outside the United States between June 2005 and December 2010 to places like Spain, France, New Zealand, and England, adding that he "routinely mingled his personal and business expenses."

"There was no legitimate business purpose or benefit to UT Southwestern for some of Dr. Wildenthal’s foreign travel," auditors wrote.

They found Wildenthal and his wife would travel on what they described as "university business," though he would not adequately document what they did while they were away.

The university would reimburse him for his expenses and he would, in turn, donate some that reimbursement back to UT Southwestern. Auditors called it a "conscience payment," suggesting Wildenthal knew his actions were "borderline."

"Dr. Wildenthal was a leader to whom [employees] should have been able to look for exemplary behavior," the audit stated.

But rather than conducting himself in a manner that would fall outside the bounds of reasonable criticism, he "engaged in spending that tested the boundaries of permissible travel," the auditors wrote, concluding: "In this respect, Dr. Wildenthal exercised questionable judgment.

UT Southwestern Director of Internal Audit Robert Rubel also resigned Tuesday as the findings were made public.

Charles Chaffin, Chief Audit Executive for the entire UT system, retired. The audit revealed Chaffin was aware of the spending and lack of documentation, but never acknowledged it because he feared bad publicity.

The audit stated appropriate policies were in place at UT Southwestern and in the UT system to have caught this questionable judgment earlier, but those policies were not followed.

UT Southwestern told employees it would immediately take steps to strengthen its audit function. Employees were also told Dr. Wildenthal would make full restitution to UT Southwestern for reimbursements found to have been inappropriate.