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Report: Study Abroad director used school funds on family perks

DES MOINES - The former director for the University of Northern Iowa's Study Abroad Center improperly spent nearly $6,700, according to a new report from the State Auditor's Office. 

Dr. Yana Cornish worked as the Director of the Study Abroad Center for the University of Northern Iowa from June 1999 to May 2014, when her employment ended. During that time, $6,691.15 in improper and unsupported disbursements were identified by Auditor of the State Mary Mosiman. 

Dr. Cornish did not comply with university policy regarding meals purchased and per diem limits, according to Study Abroad Center (SAC) employees and records provided to the investigation. 

"According to an SAC staff member we spoke with, meal cards and department charge tickets used to purchase meals in the University's dining centers were stored in the safe within the SAC. However, access to hte safe was not restricted to a limited number of individuals," the report reads. 

$1,948.32 was spent on various forms of hospitality, which include $433.50 on "unallowable items for student meals or recognition gifts" and $776.72 on "unallowable items for meals or items at staff meetings". Catering and meal charges also exceeded daily per diem allowances, with $336 being spent on a total of 3 meals in which only $123 was allocated. 

READ: Full audit report for UNI Study Abroad Center

According to the report, a 2012 invoice for $245 listed the name of Dr. Cornish's daughter in the description for a Russian Visa. But because the university was not sponsoring a student trip to Russia at the time, the cost was deemed as an improper disbursement. 

During the 2012-13 academic year, the SAC paid Learfield Communications for marketing, allowing the office to have display spaces on the concourse of the UNI Dome and McLeod Center during select basketball and football games. SAC received passes to the events for which a marketing display was set up. The report reads: 

"We contacted a representative of Learfield to determine how many passes were received for the football and basketball games. We also spoke with SAC staff members regarding the number of passes received. Based on our discussions and review of certain emails, we determined SAC received more passes to the football and basketball games than were needed for the individuals who worked at the booths during the games. For instance, for certain games, we determined SAC received 8 passes. However, at the times of these games, there were only 6 non-student SAC employees. All SAC student employees were able to attend the games at no cost using their student identification cards. As a result, the student employees did not need a pass to attend the games.

The SAC staff members we spoke with stated Dr. Cornish used some of the passes for her family members and she encouraged other SAC staff members to use available passes for their family members. In addition, SAC staff members reported using passes for family members.

While SAC did not incur a specific cost for the passes provided by Learfield, it was not appropriate for Dr. Cornish or other members of the SAC staff to use the passes for their personal purposes."

Recommendations for the university per the audit report include logging meal cards and department charge tickets and ensuring that disbursements comply with university policy.

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