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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Book event to showcase instructor’s emotional tell-all

After discovering embezzlement on campus, instructor Amy Block Joy said she experienced unjust backlash – individuals hiding her mail, claiming she was bipolar and dismissing her from her department.

Joy will share her story at the UC Davis Bookstore lounge Thursday from noon to 1 p.m., beginning by reading some excerpts from her first book, Whistleblower. A question and answer session and book signing will follow.

Joy said that she wrote the book in such a way to put the reader in her own shoes – exactly how it happened.

“I was told repeatedly I couldn’t talk about it,” Joy said. “I found solace in writing about the experience. It allowed me to keep track of what’s going on. It’s a very emotionally tumultuous experience – you’re tested and re-tested.”

Joy became a faculty member at UC Davis in the mid-1990s. In 1994, Joy directed and received $1 million in funding toward the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP) – a statewide program to help educate food stamp families about nutrition. The program expanded and received $14 million per year in grants.

Around 2006, Joy became suspicious of the program’s budget adviser, Beverly Benford, after finding mistakes in the budget. She found extraneous purchases, including a $1,400 purchase for a camera at Fry’s Electronics, and that Benford was committing travel fraud.

Joy said that she tried to report the fraud multiple times, but kept getting stopped or deferred. She eventually filed a whistleblower report to the chancellor’s office and the retaliation began. She said she was shocked to find a lack of support from many of her colleagues.

The last straw was when during a conference to train the staff, there was a public meeting held in which she was not allowed to attend. The meeting was held to discuss Joy’s alleged mental illness.

After the incident, Joy stepped down as the director of FSNEP, but chose to stay at UC Davis.

“The message you get is that people want you to leave,” Joy said. “A lot of time whistleblowers tend to leave but I love my job, and I made a decision early on that I would stick to it as long as I could and do the best that I could.”

After being asked to leave her former department, Joy now runs her own one-woman department – nutritional ecology, located in environmental horticulture. The department looks into controversies in nutrition, how health impacts the environment, nutrition policy and food safety. She teaches a freshman seminar called “Eating Green.”

However, the retaliation still continues, Joy said. Flyers of Thursday’s book event have been torn down in her old department.

Paul Takushi, Tradebook purchaser at the bookstore, said that he was surprised by the flyer incident. He said that it was sad to hear of this form of censorship.

Joy noted that the book is an educational story for future whistleblowers to ensure them that they can be safe and protected. She encourages whistleblowers to file their complaint anonymously if they can. She chose not to because she was the director of FSNEP and that it would go against her character.

At the time, Joy found $150,000 to be missing from the budget, but she now believes that number to be larger, as $2.3 million had to be returned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Even though Benford was the only employee to go to jail, Joy said that she suspects other individuals were involved.

“With a caveat, people should protect themselves,” she said. “If they can they should do it anonymously because there are all these unexpected consequences you can’t predict. I had no idea that this was a cover-up; I thought it was just a rogue employee using funds for personal benefit, and I couldn’t understand why no one wanted to report her. And now it makes sense because there were other things going on.”

UC Davis encourages its community to report any wrongdoing and fraud, said UC spokesperson Claudia Morain. In addition, the university will protect those that have been retaliated against. Joy was given a settlement for the retaliation she endured in the past.

“I love Davis, it’s a great campus and there are many good people here,” Joy said. “We’re talking about a handful of people that got angry, and I’m not really sure why… but the institution did right by me, it fully investigated my complaint and it took steps to protect me.”

MARTHA GEORGIS can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


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