Published: February 3, 2008 6:00 a.m.

Official at IPFW dismissed over fees

Kept money paid to him by foreign students, letter says

By Kelly Soderlund
The Journal Gazette

A director who advised international students at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne was fired after the university discovered he inappropriately charged students for services and apparently pocketed the money.

Connell Nelson, former director of international services, was sent a letter signed by Kenneth Christmon, associate vice chancellor for diversity and multicultural affairs, dated Sept. 12, confirming his termination effective Aug. 29. The reason for the termination was because Nelson “violated the trust of your position.”

IPFW officials provided The Journal Gazette with a copy of the letter after a public records request.

“During a meeting with Internal Audit on August 29, 2007, you identified students who had paid amounts to you personally believing that they were required by the University to pay a processing fee,” the letter states.

The letter orders Nelson to refund the money to the university so the students involved could be reimbursed.

George McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs, confirmed that 16 students were inappropriately charged and that the university reimbursed a total of $2,100. McClellan would not provide any additional details, saying it is a personnel matter.

“We obviously regret any instance in which any student is overcharged any amount,” McClellan said.

Nelson did not return repeated phone calls last week seeking comment.

A letter left at his home also did not generate a response.

Deep Rauniyar, a 24-year-old engineering student from Nepal, is one of the students who was reimbursed by the university. He alleges Nelson charged him and other international students for completing paperwork related to their immigration or student status.

Nelson told the students he would use his credit card to pay the university for the services if they could pay him cash or write him a check, Rauniyar said.

Nothing involving Nelson’s actions or IPFW’s response has been forwarded to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, spokeswoman Robyn Niedzwiecki said.

McClellan said the situation came to light when several international students began asking questions about various services and it was revealed they were being charged. He said the situation was discovered in the middle of the fall semester and was resolved by Thanksgiving.

IPFW officials did not investigate to determine whether international students whom Nelson previously advised but who have since left the university were inappropriately charged, McClellan said.

“We engaged in a pretty substantial outreach effort with all of the international students who were here (last fall),” McClellan said. “If they weren’t here, there isn’t a lot we can do about that.”

The university does not track international students after they leave IPFW and is required to hold on to their records for only one year, McClellan said.

“It might have happened, but we don’t have any way of knowing whether it happened,” McClellan said. “Is it a possibility? Yes. But there is no way for us to know.”

Despite the controversy, McClellan is confident in IPFW’s ability to serve international students.

“We can always do things better, but I feel very comfortable talking to international students (and their families) that this institution is committed to treating students well and honoring the law and building a better Fort Wayne,” McClellan said. “Sometimes you stumble along the path, but I’m really very comfortable about that.”

Rauniyar, however, is not comfortable with how the situation was handled. Because of what he believes was bad advice he received from Nelson, Rauniyar said his student status in the United States has been canceled, and he has been told he must leave the country by March 11.

An electrical engineering student at IPFW for nearly two years, Rauniyar had been working as a research assistant and in a computer lab at IPFW.

According to federal requirements, most international students can work only 20 hours a week on campus.

Unaware of the rule, Rauniyar started working more than 20 hours a week. He received a letter from the university saying his hours are capped at 20. He said he asked Nelson and a representative in the university’s human resources department about it and was told not to worry about it.

Rauniyar is in his last semester at IPFW and has only one class left to complete before receiving his degree. But he can’t finish before the March 11 deadline.

“I told them I’ll leave the country, just let me finish my graduation. Let me get a degree, and I’ll voluntarily leave the country,” Rauniyar said.

McClellan said he could not speak about individual student situations. Knowing and understanding the limitations placed on international students is the responsibility of both the students and the advisers, McClellan said.

At the same time, he said he understands the students are often thrown a lot of information when they arrive that is hard to remember.

IPFW has 144 international students. The International Student Services department is responsible for handling paperwork related to students’ immigration status and providing guidance for where students can get information, McClellan said.