HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM)- It appears the whistle-blower in the Southern Miss Galaxy Samsung tablet controversy may have been Institution of Higher Learning Commissioner, Dr. Hank Bounds.
Sources close to the investigation say not only did nearly 700 students receive the tablets, someone from the university also sent one to Bounds. Bounds quickly returned it, but the unexpected gift sparked a round of discussions, which then led to an investigation and the subsequent suspensions of three USM administrators.
The tablets were originally distributed in August as part of a highly publicized effort to help students with their class work. The University of Southern Mississippi handed them out to selected students, faculty and staff. Recipients were told they could keep the tablets once the semester was over as long as recipients provided feedback. Last week, the university asked the recipients to bring the tablets back so they could be tagged as state property.
In the meantime, an investigation indicates the school may have violated IHL and state policies with regard to bid laws. State law requires that any expenditure over $50,000 has to bid out, and any expenditure over a $250,000 has to be submitted to the IHL. Sources say neither scenario was observed.
Investigators are looking into the possibility of "bid splitting." That is splitting the $432,000 contract with tablet supplier Blackboard, in order to sidestep the IHL policy. IHL and a third party independent contractor are still reviewing the case and their findings are expected to be turned over to State Auditor, Stacey Pickering's office next week..
The three USM employees placed on administrative leave include Provost, Bob Lyman, who resigned his post shortly before his suspension was announced. Along with Chief Information Officer, Homer Coffman, and Procurement and Contract Services Director Mike Herndon.