I am a former student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. My friend, Nick H.
(another former FAU student) and I have both had very negative experiences with the Finance Department and leadership at FAU. This review and the following Statement of Facts about Nick’s experience are being posted in an attempt to shed light on the negative aspects of FAU and its Finance Department, past and present. Nick and I were unfairly charged significant fees at the end of the Spring Semester 2008 by the Student Accounts Office. While my path to getting the fees back was time-consuming but straightforward, Nick has to this day not gotten the fees (over $900) back, despite countless hours spent dealing with multiple staff members in the FAU Finance Department, from the Student Accounts Director all the way up to the Vice President for Financial Affairs.
Nick spent months gathering evidence from the FAU Computing Department to support his claim: Unfairly being charged over $900 by FAU. While FAU has accepted the evidence and admitted he has a case, the University and its Staff (including current FAU Controller Stacey Semmel) have refused to return the money and have deemed it appropriate to let this matter go unresolved. For a University that claims to care about its students and their well-being, FAU has a long, long way to go. Statement of Facts End of Spring Semester 2008: When I went to the Student Financial Services Center to pay my account balance, I was shocked to see a charge of $912.16 on my account from collections, in addition to several late fees.
The next day: I requested a meeting with Dr. Linda Visaggi, Student Accounts Director, to attempt to have the collections charge reversed and pay my account balance in full. Note: A couple of days before I met with Dr. Visaggi, a friend of mine, Patrick S., also a student at FAU, who had a similar charge on his account, had spoken with a receptionist at the front desk in the Student Financial Services Center, who reversed the collections charge on his account, and pulled him out of collections.
After this meeting, which he described to me on several occasions, he immediately paid the balance on his account and had no further problems. Unfortunately, I only learned of his experience after I had already met with Dr. Visaggi. At my first meeting with Dr.
Visaggi, she stated that the FAU Controller’s Office had sent 2-3 emails during the Spring Semester to MYFAU student email account (stating that accounts not paid by the end of the semester would be turned over to collections). I told her I had not received any of these emails. I then explained my situation: I had dealt with a severe financial hardship and family emergency during the Spring Semester. She assured me that I only needed to take three steps, after which “I will pull you out of collections and reverse the collections charges on your account".
These steps were: 1. Request proof from the Computing Department at FAU that I had not received the emails from the Controller's Office 2. Request that a Housing fee on my account be reversed 3.Submit a Fee Petition outlining my circumstances to the Student Financial Services Office Summer 2008: Over the summer, I met with Dr. Visaggi several times and updated her on the progress of my attempts.
After some work, I was successful in having the Housing fee reversed. I also successfully submitted a lengthy Fee Petition to the Student Financial Services Office. After multiple tickets sent to the Help Desk and Computing Department at FAU, as well as several personal visits, I was told that my email logs had been searched, and my story confirmed: There were no emails found from the Controller's Office. I was told that the proof I needed to show Dr.
Visaggi was a printout of my email account. August 2008: At my final meeting with Dr. Visaggi, I was shocked and disappointed when, after presenting her with the proof from the Computing Department, Dr. Visaggi seemed not to recall the promise she made about pulling me out of collections and reversing the charges.
She seemed agitated and said she was “sorry” but “couldn't help me anymore.” I tried to explain that I had completed all three steps as requested, but she refused to speak with me further. At this point, I was forced to pay the balance on my account immediately or forfeit registration for classes for the Fall Semester 2008. Paying the balance on my account unfortunately meant paying the collections charges as well. Fall 2008: I decided to take the matter to the Controller of the University, Stacey Semmel.
In the following 3-4 months, I met with Stacey Semmel multiple times. At our last meeting, she informed me that she would reverse the $75 late payment fee on my account for the Spring Semester 2008, but that she could do no more, unless I decided to submit another Fee Petition, which she said "would probably be denied”. Stacey Semmel stated at the time “There is nothing more the University can do for you.” (A CLEARLY INACCURATE STATEMENT, based on later statements made by her Supervisor, Dorothy Russell- see below) Spring Semester 2009: I decided to try and take the matter to the highest level, and meet with the President of the University. I met twice with Karen Miller in the Office of the President.
She stated that I first needed to contact the University Ombudsman, Patty Singer, before actually taking my issue to the President/President’s Office Staff. Reluctantly (since so much time had passed without results), I began talking with Patty Singer, and forwarded all documentation related to my issue to her. August 2009: I was informed that another female student had been in my situation previously, and had been helped by the former Associate Controller at FAU. I was told by Patty Singer that I should wait until Ms.
Singer had a chance to talk to the former Associate Controller and find out if the Former Controller could help me as well, after which Ms. Singer would contact me. August-November 2009: I sent multiple emails and left numerous voicemails for Patty Singer, but was never contacted back. November 20, 2009: I finally reached Patty Singer by phone, and was told that Ms.
Singer had talked with the Current Head of the FAU Finance Department and Staff member in the President’s Office- Dorothy Russell, as well as Stacey Semmel and Dr. Visaggi. I was told that Dorothy Russell had stated that a mistake had been made because neither Dr. Visaggi nor anyone else at FAU had the authority to pull my account out of collections and reverse the collections charge after my account was sent to collections (completely contrary to the experience of my friend, Patrick S.).
Patty Singer stated that she would forward this “Statement of Facts" to the President's office at FAU. November 20, 2009: I reached Dorothy Russell by phone. Ms. Russell stated that she did not remember my name or issue, and asked that I have all documentation forwarded from Patty Singer to her, and that Ms.
Singer contact her by phone to speak about my issue (ALL OF WHICH HAD ALREADY BEEN DONE ONCE BEFORE). November 20, 2009: I left a voicemail and sent an email to Patty Singer, asking her to send all documentation of my issue to Dorothy Russell, and to contact Dorothy Russell by phone to speak about the issue. Further Events, in Brief: Dorothy Russell examined my evidence and email documentation, and stated that “I wish you would have come to me sooner, as I would have been able to reverse the collections charge.” COMPLETELY CONTRARY TO WHAT STACEY SEMMEL STATED PREVIOUSLY. This also directly contradicts her statement to Patty Singer, as well as the instructions I was given by every FAU employee up to this point: Follow the chain of command, regardless of how much time has passed without results.
At which point does the University take responsibility for the words and actions of its staff? Ms. Russell’s inability to give me back any part of the $912 fee defies logic, since I originally paid the $912 to FAU. If I can pay FAU, why can they not pay me back?
(Especially once the determination was made that I had a case- that at least one mistake was made by FAU along the way). Financial Aid and Student Account refunds are frequently processed at FAU, and Ms. Russell failed to justify why my case should be handled any differently. Ms.
Russell later stated that the $912 could not be refunded to me because the money had already been paid to the collections company, and was no longer at FAU. In other words, since FAU made a mistake and failed to contact me by email, then allowed a senior member of its staff (Dr. Visaggi) to make another mistake and waste countless hours of my time, I should now simply accept the loss of $912? I was never contacted by the collections agency, nor (to my knowledge) was proof of $912 worth of collections work ever shown to FAU- which leads me to ask why FAU does not demand the $912 back from the collections agency, whereupon they could return the funds to me.
July 19, 2016: I spoke with Rita in the FAU President’s office, who listened to my story and stated that she would make some calls and “get back to you, or have someone else get back to you within 48 hours”. She acknowledged that she had both my personal cell number and email for contact. She asked me to submit my documentation in an email to email@example.com, and that the email would be reviewed and a decision would be made about whether to involve the President directly. July 2016: I still had not heard back from anyone at the President’s office, so I contacted the office and left several voicemails for Rita.
After another attempt to find out the status of my issue at the President’s office, Rita answered and told me to “stop calling” and proceeded to hang up on me. Apparently this is how the President’s Office at FAU handles students with difficult issues- Cutting off all contact and refusing to speak with them. Questions I have for the University: -At the end of the Spring Semester 2008, I was ready and willing to pay my bill in full. I did, however, want to avoid the sizable late fees and collections charges.
I was not alone- at least 2 other students that I know of, including my friend Patrick S., were in exactly the same situation. Dr. Visaggi personally “pulled them out of collections” soon after the end of the semester and saved them the fees and collections charges. She instructed me to gather certain documentation over the summer, after which she promised to “pull me out of collections” and reverse the fees and collections charges for me as well.
Why was I treated differently than other students in the same circumstances? Despite gathering all the documentation she asked for, Dr. Visaggi did not do as she promised, and I was forced to pay $912 extra or drop out of FAU. Why did Dr.
Visaggi break her word to me? -Was Dr. Visaggi’s personal power to “pull people out of collections” appropriate? Was her relationship with the collections agencies appropriate?
Was her termination from the University soon after Summer 2008 related to these events? As a Director at FAU, should the University not take responsibility for any mistakes Dr. Visaggi may have made while acting on the University’s behalf? -Dr.
Visaggi’s termination by FAU after the events with the collections agency in Summer 2008 effectively ended FAU’s relationship with the collections agency in question (to my understanding) and, I believe, also ended it’s policy of sending student accounts to collections on the time frame I was subjected to. A blanket statement was posted on the Student Accounts homepage afterwards, stating that students who did not pay their balance by a certain date would be subject to a certain late fee. This begs the question- was this purely in response to the mistakes made in my situation? -What is normal University policy if a student hasn’t paid their bill in full by the end of the Semester?
Is it to immediately turn over the account to collections and charge the student no matter what? If so, why were exceptions made to this rule? (IE: My friend, Patrick S.) Either way, it would seem that I was treated unfairly, because I did not get an exception. If there is a University rule in place, it should apply to everyone.
University staff should not be able to act based on a whim, making exceptions for some individuals and not for others. The University should be accountable for its actions- otherwise, why have rules? Even though she was terminated, the University should take responsibility for Dr. Visaggi’s actions, and not force me to pay $912 due to a mistake Dr.
Visaggi or other FAU staff made on behalf of the University. -Why did the University staff fail to fulfill their commitments at so many different stages? Is it University policy to promise to contact someone and then break that promise, repeatedly and for extended periods of time? As recently as this year, Rita in the President’s Office broke her word to me in that respect.
In light of this, is it any wonder this issue has gone years without resolution? -In Summer 2008, the collections agency never contacted me or did any work on my case. Why then were they paid $912 by FAU? What was the deal that FAU had with the collections agency?
Did the collections agency show proof of its efforts to contact me (justification for payment) to FAU? If not, why doesn’t FAU go after the collections agency for the $912 which was paid in error? -I believe it is a legal requirement to contact someone about a debt before charging them an additional collections fee. Why was I not contacted by FAU (proven by my email records) or by the collections agency, at any point in time?
-Why would Ms. Russell state she “wished I would have come to her sooner” and imply that I am somehow to blame for an extremely unfair outcome, when I did everything right, following University policy to the letter and taking FAU staff at their word? If FAU staff had acted differently, these mistakes would never have happened, and/or would have been resolved in a timely manner and credited back to my account while I was still a student at FAU. The Computing Department at FAU alone took 3 MONTHS to produce the email evidence requested.
Ms. Russell and her staff were paid for their time in attempting to resolve this issue, I was not. -Ms. Russell and other FAU staff seemed to admit that FAU made a mistake at some point (that I had a case with respect to the $912 and an error related to those funds).
Due to FAU’s mistake, I lost $912. What did FAU lose? Nothing. This situation defies logic- One party makes a mistake and suffers no consequences, while the other party is forced to pay for their mistake, not just with a large fee but with countless hours of lost time.
I will never get back the hours of my life I have spent trying to hold Florida Atlantic University accountable for an extremely unfair situation it created. Worst of all: In the end, I have absolutely nothing to show for my efforts.
Reason of review: Problems with payment.