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Dean of ECU’s dental school steps down

State audit questions travel expenses

The dean of East Carolina University’s new dental school resigned last week, leaving its fledgling class of students leaderless.

But future funding for the school, which opened its doors just last week, is not expected to be affected, administrators said.

Dr. James Hupp resigned as dean of ECU’s School of Dental Medicine last Tuesday after a state audit questioned travel expenses made by school administrators.

“It is a bump in the road, at least,” said John Durham, a spokesman for ECU.

“But we plan to name an interim dean within the next week or so and intend to move forward.”

The audit on the dental school was performed after the state auditor’s office received two complaints about problems with the school’s expenditures, said State Auditor Beth Wood.

Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke who serves as chairman of the N.C. House education appropriations subcommittee, said legislators seem willing to move past the findings of the audit.

“A mistake by a dean shouldn’t implicate funding for the school,” Blackwell said.

The audit found evidence of extensive travel by administrators during the startup of the dental school without documentation for some travel expenditures between July 1, 2007 and Feb. 28, 2011.

“This type of audit was not routine,” Wood said.

Incomplete reporting of travel expenses was common at the dental school, Wood said.

“It was systematic in that there were reimbursements in travel by the dental school and not all of the documentation was there,” she said.

Hupp’s travel reimbursements, which were specifically mentioned in the audit, lacked justification, she said.

The audit report highlighted trips that Hupp took to South Carolina and Florida to attend conferences, as well as trips to Switzerland and Germany to visit dental manufacturers and universities.

Those trips — which cost the dental school about $3,550 — appeared to have a business component but might have been an inappropriate use of state funds, according to the report.

Durham said the university is asking Hupp to repay money that was not properly reported.

This includes money Hupp received from both teaching at UNC-CH and contributing to a scholarly journal.

Hupp failed to comply with income reporting requirements by not reporting these sources of income, Durham said.

He said Hupp, who was not available for comment, will remain on staff at the dental school despite his resignation as dean.

“We are talking to him about what his role will be,” he said.

Hupp’s contract specifies he is also a tenured professor, he said.

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Hupp will not receive the $350,000 a year salary he would have as dean, and he said his salary as a tenured professor is still in negotiations.

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