USF closes think tank days after FOX 13 investigation revealed red flags

- The University of South Florida has closed the doors of the Global Initiative for Civil Society and Conflict, days after a FOX 13 investigation raised questions about how the think tank was using public money.

USF spokesperson Lara Wade sent an email just before the close of business the night before Thanksgiving, announcing the center was closed “effective immediately.”

The name may have changed, but the Global Initiative’s two remaining employees will stay on with USF.

“Jacobson will continue his research around the topic of civil societies and conflict, but again there will be no Center,” Wade said in the email. Jacobson will be reporting to the head of the sociology department.

Another employee, Adib Farhadi, will also remain in his position at USF, though not in the Global Initiative. USF has not answered questions about the total cost of his salary and benefits package, and they have not said to whom he will report.

The think tank, which opened in 2011, had lax oversight and struggled to come up with a clear mission, according to public records reviewed by FOX 13. USF’s internal review last summer identified major problems with financial accountability, including that grant money was “not spent and/or tracked appropriately.”

FOX 13's investigation also revealed the Global Initiative had engaged in what appeared to be misleading marketing. The think tank’s website, which has now been taken down, showed Farhadi with Ban Ki-Moon in a photo that appeared to be taken in 2004 -- years before there was a Global Initiative. A brochure for the think tank that was labeled “interns” was the same photo from the College of Arts and Sciences website, showing paid academic advisors.

USF refused to release copies of federal grant expenses to FOX 13, claiming state law pertaining to research trade secrets makes the expense reports exempt from public oversight.

Wade also said Jacobson would no longer receive his administrative stipend of $22,500 a year, but has not answered repeated requests for his total salary and benefits package.

USF had previously reported that Jacobson’s total salary and fringe benefits were worth $220,472.

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