The University of Connecticut has removed a department head from her position after an investigation into how a professor who was dead, possibly for months, remained on the payroll without anyone realizing he was deceased.
The professor, 84-year-old Dr. Pierluigi Bigazzi, was found dead, wrapped in garbage bags and hidden under a tarp, in his Burlington home on Feb. 5 after UConn officials who had not been able to reach him contacted authorities to check on his well-being, according to police.
Bigazzi’s 70-year-old wife, Linda L. Kosuda-Bigazzi, has been charged with his murder and police said she is claiming self-defense.
It’s not clear exactly how long Bigazzi was dead before police found his body, but neighbors said they had not seen him for around six months and investigators said he could have been killed at any time between June 13, 2017, and Feb. 5, 2018.
Bigazzi, a faculty member in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UConn Health, worked for UConn for more than 40 years, but did not appear on campus or respond to emails or phone calls for much of 2017, according to a report the interim provost and executive vice president for health affairs and the chief human resources officer provided to the UConn President Susan Herbst and the CEO of UConn Health and executive vice president for health affairs.
In the five years before his death, Bigazzi’s work responsibilities were focused on education, overseeing lectures in the Mechanisms of Disease course, writing materials for laboratory classes and developing elective courses, according to UConn.
But when UConn revised its curriculum, it put less emphasis on the traditional lecture, according to a report UConn released Wednesday, and Bigazzi’s focus turned toward creating materials to be used online. The work was expected to take between six and eight months and did not require Bigazzi to be on campus to do the work, according to the report from UConn.
The report from UConn identifies Dr. Melinda Sanders, the head of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, as the person responsible for managing Bigazzi.
It was not until February that Bigazzi’s department suspected something was amiss and the investigation into his whereabouts revealed that he was dead. The office of the chief medical examiner determined he died of blunt-force trauma and his death was a homicide.
The investigation into Bigazzi’s death prompted UConn to look into his work arraignments with the university and they soon learned that there was no written record of his assignment, no timetable for completion of it, nor a schedule for handing in work.
The investigation also revealed some discrepancies, including that Bigazzi had not reported vacation time in all of 2017 when he had done so in the years prior.
UConn says working remotely is an “acceptable practice, provided it is properly documented.” The school also said flexible schedules are acceptable “provided that work is being completed effectively in a timely way which requires significant management oversight during the entire work period.”
“However, no regular, full-time employee – faculty or otherwise – can simply be allowed to disappear for months at a time with no contact whatsoever with their supervisor,” the report says.
The report says the outcome of the case is the result of a management failure rather than a problem caused by a lack of appropriate policy.
NBC Connecticut reached out to UConn and Dr. Sanders declined comment.
Linda Kosuda-Bigazzi, a prior employee of UConn Health, had a “gratis” appointment at the school, which was unpaid, and frequently went to campus with her husband when he was teaching. UConn said the nature of her role was unclear and had not been reviewed in more than a decade.
The report proposes that gratis positions be reviewed yearly and have a clearly defined goal.
The UConn report Sanders' salary will be adjusted and the school will identify a successor.