April 08, 2020

Clifford Poirot’s Op-ed about the American University in Bulgaria (BDN, Jan. 8) reflects the bitter disappointment of a faculty member whose contract was not renewed but is otherwise a hodgepodge of baseless allegations and innuendo. As a director trustee of the American University of Bulgaria, currently serving as chair of the Audit Committee, and a former 12-year member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Maine System including two terms as chair, I want to answer some of Mr. Poirot’s more serious charges.

The American University in Bulgaria receives a significant portion of its funding from the United States Agency for International Development. In fact, that agency, operating under the direct supervision of the Congress of the United States, is the largest single source of funding for AUBG. Poirot says that he provided “evidence” to the Inspector General’s Office that USAID funding “was being wasted due to poor planning and mismanagement at the University.” The fact is that the Inspector General’s Office conducted a detailed examination of AUBG planning and management and — as was reported in a recent news story in the BDN — AUBG received “a clean bill of health.” The most recent audit report to the Audit Committee and to the Board of Directors was presented at our meeting in Washington this past weekend and — once again — AUBG received a “clean audit” with no evidence of mismanagement.

Poirot suggests that there is an “annual budget shortfall of $3 million.” The implication of mismanagement is totally unwarranted. Instead, AUBG provides a planned subsidy in addition to the tuition payments that poor students can afford in order to provide financial support. The situation is not unlike what happens on all Maine campuses.

AUBG has never spent $1 million for a fund-raising/development function. In fact, the fund-raising/development function has until recently been significantly understaffed and underfunded. AUBG faces significant financial challenges due in no small part to the fact that at the time the University of Maine System Board of Trustees authorized this project in 1991 it was, as accurately pointed our in your recent series of articles, on the express condition that no University of Maine funds be used to support this venture. We raised over $400,000 in private giving last year, in addition to $2.3 million from philanthropist George Soros. But we need to raise more. There is one thing you can be sure of and that is that we are not wasting the precious resources we have.

Poirot is particularly bitter about the decision of our president not to renew his employment contract. While it is true that some recommendations of faculty reappointment from a faculty committee were not endorsed by the provost and president, as is true for most university campuses, the recommendation of the provost and the decision of the president were well within their authority and fully supported by the director trustees. It is very disappointing to have a splendid institution maligned by this disgruntled former employee.

Harrison Richardson, a Portland attorney, is directot trustree and chair of the Audit Committee of American University in Bulgaria.

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