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State Auditor, College Board Investigate U. of Southern Mississippi Over Tablets

The Mississippi state auditor’s office and the state’s higher-education board want to know whether the University of Southern Mississippi violated state law when it purchased 700 tablet computers last summer and gave them to students. The university paid Blackboard $432,000 for the Samsung Galaxy tablets and related services, according to the Hattiesburg American, which reported the investigation yesterday.

Investigators want to know whether the university followed state law, which requires that state agencies take public bids for purchases that exceed $50,000. The Blackboard deal may also have violated a higher-education-board policy that requires board approval for contracts that exceed $250,000. The possible violations were uncovered by an internal university audit last month, the Hattiesburg American report said.

Three university employees, including the chief information officer and the director of procurement and contract services, have been placed on administrative leave, the newspaper said. “I’m very, very, very saddened by this situation,” said Martha Saunders, the university’s president. “I’m saddened by the fact that I have employees caught up in this.”

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