• August 28, 2015

Former U. of Louisville Dean Is Sentenced to More Than 5 Years

Robert D. Felner, the former dean of the University of Louisville's College of Education and Human Development, was sentenced on Monday to five and a quarter years in federal prison.

Mr. Felner was indicted in October 2008 on charges that he and a confederate had misappropriated more than $2.3-million from a federal research grant and from contracts with three urban school districts.

The indictment prompted a long round of soul-searching at Louisville. Some faculty members say that the university could have detected Mr. Felner's wrongdoing earlier if administrators had paid attention to faculty and student complaints about his conduct. Others have suggested that the university did a weak job of checking Mr. Felner's background when he was hired in 2003.

At today's hearing, Judge Charles R. Simpson III of the U.S. District Court in Louisville ratified a plea deal that Mr. Felner's attorneys had negotiated in December. In the agreement, Mr. Felner pleads guilty to nine counts of mail fraud and tax evasion. Along with imposing the 63-month prison term, the deal requires Mr. Felner to make restitution of $510,000 to the University of Louisville and more than $1.6-million to the University of Rhode Island.

"Robert Felner is being punished for his crime and we expect to be fully compensated for the funds he stole," said Mark Hebert, Louisville's director of communications and marketing, in a written statement on Monday. "But our campus community, including the College of Education under interim Dean Blake Haselton, really has moved past the turmoil Mr. Felner caused. Life goes on at the U. of L."

A committee at Louisville recently interviewed three finalists for Mr. Felner's old position.

Mr. Felner's alleged co-conspirator, Thomas Schroeder, has not entered a plea agreement. He is scheduled to go on trial in August.

In a recent indictment prepared for that trial, prosecutors have charged that Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Felner also defrauded an addiction center in Illinois where Mr. Schroeder previously worked. That allegation was not part of the original set of charges against Mr. Felner, but he admitted to that fraud in the plea deal.


1. 22053555 - May 18, 2010 at 07:35 am

Chandler Associates would have tracked him down!

2. honore - May 18, 2010 at 09:33 am

just another example of administrative cowardice raising its warted face yet again. Wen will we get it? Yes, it (administration) is unpleasant work sometimes, but the damage done by this charlatan will be felt in the alumni, philanthropy and development coffers for years. YET, all the weasels who did NOTHING while the tiller was being looted will proceed with plans to retire in Souther California gated, electric-fenced enclaves of exlusivity...really pathetic.

3. rburns - May 18, 2010 at 11:16 am

University of Rhode Island has been frank to admit its problems and to say that the damage to people and the school's reputation is permanent. Louisville says it is happy that Felner will go to jail and it is moving on. Quite different institutional responses as to administrative awareness of its basic responsibility for all that went wrong. And consider UW-Parkside, which was set to bring Felner in as its Chancellor, having heard all sorts of endorsements for Felner from Louisville (and others). Given the havoc he caused at Rhode Island and at Louisville as a dean, one can only imagine what he would have done from the Chancellor's desk at Parkside. If a Provost and the minions were unwilling to take on the issues with one of her deans, what could we expect if the source of the problems were the President to whom she reports?

One hopes against hope that people have learned from this that their professional responsibilities are real and must be fulfilled, especially when students, faculty and staff can suffer otherwise and no matter how unpleasant they might find their jobs in those aspects. But one lesson to be learned is that higher education too often does a woeful job in hiring its top executives. Here is a man who is going to prison because of who he is, but U. of Rhode Island, U. of Lousiville and UW-Parkside all not only hired him, gave him sweeping authority, but also were public in their repeatedly stunning praise of his talents.

4. thanksforjake - May 18, 2010 at 09:13 pm

As a doctoral student at U of L during much of this time, I saw many painful things. I felt problems were evident and made it a point to keep my distance from the dean. Many faculty members appeared to have unusual levels of stress and anxiety and many of my graduate student colleagues felt they had to be involved with the Dean's agenda and activities for the good of their future careers. I believe many people will feel these affects for a long time.

With the negative being said, I hope the university reputation will recover. I an incredibly thankful to many in U of L's CEHD for my personal preparation in my career, the dedication to student success, and the positive examples they displayed. My time there will always be a highlight of my life and I owe a lot to that college.

As news of this story broke, I thought at some point I will be asked if I was at U of L during this dean's tenure. I will have to say yes and then follow that comment with the great experiences I had with all other aspects of my education.

5. uofhell - May 18, 2010 at 09:58 pm

Well, I sincerely hope the grad student is successful, as he/she was a victim also - a victim of Felner's, of course, but unfortunately also of Provost/ExecVP Willihnganz and President Ramsey. Both are just as culpable in that they condoned and facilitated Felner's activities of abusive behavior, as they continue to do with other deans. Just have a look at the 35 grievances against Felner and see how they were so gracefully dismantled by the University administration. I used to think they blindly defended the deans at U of L, but now I know they do it with complicity and with full knowledge of repeated violations of the policies of the University. They bring in as much legal counsel as needed and outspend the poorer faculty members just so no one can say they lost a grievance. The faculty members thereafter are marked as fair game, experiencing continued abuse and harassment until they finally leave. After the "reform" that the Provost likes to boast about as having been implemented here, the violations of policy, suppresion of faculty grievances, and expensive lawsuits continue as usual. Not many of these cases will see the light of publicity as in the Felner case, so you won't even know about them, but the same old business is being done by the same people here simply because they get away with it. So, the students who graduate and the faculty who stay here will continue to carry the burden of the corruption that never gets cleaned up. With all that has gone on at the University of Louisville, the two top administrators ought to resign.

6. amelie - May 19, 2010 at 03:07 am

Long after Robert Felner's ignoble departure, officials at the University of Louisville
continued to tout him as a "change agent," a brilliant man whose tendency to rub
people the wrong way was merely a part of the cost of doing business.

What he did do was tap into the Zeitgeist of the place, recognizing that the institution
didn't follow its own policies, and for those near or at the top, oversight and accountability
systems were nonexistent. Mr. Felner had over thirty grievances filed against him, but in
a climate of fear and debasement, such complaints might be regarded as medals.

I didn't work for Robert Felner but I was at the University of Louisville for over eight years
that included his tenure. Unfortunately, politics are often a given in the workplace, but the
extremes of behavior I encountered and endured (unchecked from the Provost on down)
led me to a PTSD diagnosis after I was forced to resign. I loved my job, was greatly interested
in my field, continually expanding my knowledge, and received only high praise from our vendors.
Having never been "written up," I didn't receive credit for an entire year's work, and was about
to be put on a disciplinary program never before implemented in the history of the library
when I resigned two years ago.

As I was leaving I was told my boss "didn't trust the work."

Throughout my working life in libraries, I've worked with grownups who possessed
the maturity level and judgment of adults. I never saw anything that looked like abuse.
Apparently, neither did my co-workers or else they were too afraid to stand up.

7. newyorkyankees - May 24, 2010 at 04:43 pm

How exactly do the former faculty and staff members rebuild their reputations and careers after Felner's abuse? It sounds to me like jail time is much too good for him!!!

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