UC Irvine professor spends $400,000 in state funds on digital camera for Instagram posts

In April 2014, Yihong Zhou was working as a analysis scientist on the College of California, Irvine Faculty of Drugs, when she acquired a curious query from the college’s gear supervisor: Can she affirm that she was utilizing a $53,000 digital camera in her lab?

Zhou replied that she had by no means seen a digital camera like this and didn’t perceive why neurosurgery wanted such a factor. She recalled that she did not get many replies.

However 5 years later, when one other division member met Zhou within the car parking zone and handed her a buying bag stuffed with receipts detailing the acquisition of greater than $400,000 price of pictures gear, together with 14 cameras and 46 Photographs. All have been bought by the pinnacle of the division, Frank PK Hsu.

An audit launched in response to a subsequent whistleblower report from Weeks concluded that the $1.2 million in annual income licensed college funds to buy digital camera gear, usually utilizing “suspicious” or “unauthorized” means, in keeping with the auditor’s report.

Auditors discovered that Xu had a private web site with lots of of images on the market, some priced at lots of of {dollars}.

However the report was saved underneath wraps, out of the general public eye, till Zhou contacted The Occasions, and a reporter requested managers about their findings. Zhou himself was not in a position to learn it till the college offered the Occasions with a duplicate.

Xu declined to be interviewed by The Occasions or to reply questions.

UCI spokesman Tom Vasich mentioned Hsu has now repaid the college $404,000 — the worth of the acquisition questioned by auditors.

“The College took acceptable corrective motion,” Vasic mentioned.

Two specialists questioned the adequacy of the college’s response.

If the identical unauthorized buy had occurred at a personal firm, the worker “would nearly actually have been fired,” mentioned Michael Josephson, director of the Josephson Ethics Institute in Playa del Rey.

“When the aftermath is nothing greater than, ‘Oh, you bought caught, so apologize and provides it again,’ it sends the fallacious message,” Josephson mentioned.

“The implications needs to be extreme sufficient that somebody in an identical scenario would say it is not price it,” he mentioned.

Liz Hempowicz, a whistleblower safety skilled on the Authorities Oversight Challenge, mentioned when Zhou first raised the difficulty with managers a couple of lacking $53,000 digital camera in 2014, managers ought to have appeared into the acquisition.

“If you get away with it as soon as, in case you suppose no one cares, it is rather a lot simpler to maintain doing it,” she mentioned.

Zhou labored within the division from 2006 to the top of 2013, specializing in mind tumor analysis. She then transferred to basic surgical procedure and continued to work in her laboratory.

She additionally believes Xu ought to have confronted extra severe penalties primarily based on the auditor’s findings. In her view, Xu’s actions known as into query his judgment and his suitability to take care of sufferers or educate UCI medical college students.

“He used the state fund as his piggy financial institution,” she mentioned. “He set a foul instance for these future medical doctors.”

Hsu mentioned the rationale for buying the pictures gear was to create a multimedia heart for coaching residents and neighborhood outreach. He informed auditors that when he was employed to steer the neurosurgery division in 2012, he had verbal authorization from the dean to create the media lab, including that he was excited by the proposal as a result of he was an avid neurosurgeon. Novice photographer.

Auditors requested Xu why he purchased so many cameras and lenses for a media lab that was not but operational. He informed them there was a “particular enterprise goal” for every buy.

Of their report, the auditors famous that not one of the media labs got here to fruition. They concluded that Xu “couldn’t moderately account for or present a industrial goal for a lot of costly cameras”.

The dean who employed Hsu, in addition to the present dean of the medical faculty, informed auditors they’d “no information” of the Neurosurgery Media Lab, the report mentioned.

After studying Xu’s clarification within the audit report, Zhou famous that greater than $100,000 in gear was shipped on to Xu’s residence in Irvine, the place he posted dozens of images on Instagram exhibiting him on trip and in private images. The digital camera is used within the shoot, comparable to one exhibiting a feminine mannequin stress-free on a settee, ingesting a cocktail.

Requested whether or not the college had taken another motion towards Hsu past compensation, Vasich mentioned he couldn’t talk about personnel issues due to privateness legal guidelines.

“None of those coverage violations had any affect on Dr. Xu’s surgical procedure,” he mentioned.

Hsu initially informed auditors he was not within the pictures enterprise, the report mentioned. He later modified his tune, admitting he was promoting the images, however saying he was “not promoting a lot” and “only for enjoyable”.

It’s UC coverage that workers shall not use College assets for private acquire.

Josephson mentioned he discovered it “outrageous” that the college hadn’t executed extra to make sure its professors weren’t misusing funds.

Zhou, now retired from the college, mentioned she questioned why the dean’s workplace did not cease buying when she first raised the difficulty in 2014. She mentioned she needed to get the dean’s approval to run her lab. Workplace purchases of any $20,000 or extra. She famous that Hsu bought cameras exceeding that quantity 5 instances.

In response to her paperwork, Hsu’s procurement started in 2012, shortly after he was employed.

Zhou mentioned she has grown more and more annoyed lately as she repeatedly requested UCI directors how they dealt with the detailed proof she introduced in her whistleblower criticism.

In August 2020, a UCI worker who investigated the criticism wrote that auditors had discovered that the purchases violated college coverage and had referred the case to administration. Then there was silence.

When Hsu bought the cameras, the dean’s workplace was not requested to approve purchases of $20,000 or extra, Vasich mentioned.

The division has since moved ahead with it, although deans informed auditors they do not recall approving the media lab. Vasich mentioned the Media Lab not too long ago grew to become operational.

Earlier than Hsu jotted down lots of the images, his Instagram account confirmed him utilizing the digital camera on journeys to international locations comparable to Japan, Australia and Italy, in addition to on seashores at Crystal Cove State Park.

In 2015, a Reuters reporter took an image of Xu outdoors Notre Dame Cathedral, with a digital camera slung over his shoulder. The strap is emblazoned with the Section One emblem—the 4 most costly digital camera manufacturers he has ever bought.

On the identical day, the reporter requested Mr. Xu whether or not the strengthening of the greenback towards the euro had affected his itinerary. He replied that it made him need to spend more cash.

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