Other views: Higher ed finances need more oversightAs the reports of deficits mount and the critical audits multiply at North Dakota State University, here’s something to remember: Former President Joseph Chapman resigned over unrelated matters. What would have happened if he had stayed on? In other words, if Chapman still were in charge, when would North Dakotans have learned of the budget shortfalls that prompted the interim president to order a hiring freeze shortly after taking office?
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
As the reports of deficits mount and the critical audits multiply at North Dakota State University, here’s something to remember:
Former President Joseph Chapman resigned over unrelated matters. What would have happened if he had stayed on?
In other words, if Chapman still were in charge, when would North Dakotans have learned of the budget shortfalls that prompted the interim president to order a hiring freeze shortly after taking office?
Then there is this from a recent story in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead: “An audit of several NDSU projects, including the president’s house and the Old Main project, is expected this spring. (Interim President Richard) Hanson said he’s not expecting good news from the auditors.
“‘I have a feeling they’re going to call into question processes that either were not followed or followed incorrectly,’ he said.”
The Forum story’s subject was the resignation of NDSU’s chief financial officer. In his resignation letter, the CFO said he had met continuously with Chapman over budget concerns, “but to no avail. He (Chapman) simply left the university with the situation unresolved.”
Then there’s the letter’s other claim, which is that Chapman “intimidated” the CFO into finishing a project — the remodeling of the president’s office — in such a way that the expense would avoid Board of Higher Education scrutiny.
Board members as well as other North Dakotans should take note: None of the above had surfaced at the time of Chapman’s resignation. Chapman resigned in the wake of revelations about his travel expenses and the cost of the new house for NDSU presidents.
Again, if — as the CFO’s letter claims — Chapman actively was suppressing bad financial news, how would North Dakotans have learned the truth about NDSU’s finances? How many more projects would have been started without enough money to pay for them?
The state board should answer those questions in two ways. First, the board should answer the questions given the system’s safeguards as they exist today. In other words, when would an audit or some other measure have uncovered the deficits and overruns? What event would have or could have forced their revelation?
The second set of answers is just as important: What safeguards should be in place?
In other words, how can the system be improved to catch problems more quickly or prevent them from happening in the first place?
For example, the 2009 Legislature modestly beefed up North Dakota’s “whistleblower” law, but a more dramatic strengthening — one that would have empowered the labor commissioner to reinstate any employee fired for reporting suspected wrongdoing — failed. ...
The Legislature has granted the North Dakota University System unusual independence. To keep that status, the system must show that it watchdogs its spending very carefully — and by doing so, avoids financial scandals of the kind now surfacing at NDSU.