Lawmakers review audit: University officials say they are working to regain trust after project policy violationsUniversity officials assured legislators Thursday they are taking steps to make certain that mistakes highlighted by an audit this spring won’t happen again. Administrators also are working to improve what one legislator called a “huge image problem” at North Dakota State University. “We have to regain the trust of the taxpayers,” said Bruce Bollinger, NDSU vice president for finance and administration.
By: By Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — University officials assured legislators Thursday they are taking steps to make certain that mistakes highlighted by an audit this spring won’t happen again.
Administrators also are working to improve what one legislator called a “huge image problem” at North Dakota State University.
“We have to regain the trust of the taxpayers,” said Bruce Bollinger, NDSU vice president for finance and administration.
The Legislature’s Interim Higher Education Committee reviewed the audit that found violations of law and policy in building projects at NDSU and the University of North Dakota. The committee continues meeting today.
Rep. Ken Svedjan, R-Grand Forks, said he is disgusted by the purposeful deception found in the audit.
Members of the state Board of Higher Education share the same concerns, said member Duaine Espegard of Grand Forks.
Legislators heard from North Dakota University System officials about changes being implemented to ensure greater accountability and transparency.
The changes include a proposed plan to better monitor the campuses, involving a risk assessment and the addition of a systemwide internal auditor.
Also being proposed is a new code of conduct that would be reviewed and signed by all full-time employees each year.
The code protects employees from retaliation if they report suspected violations through a fraud hotline. It also states that failing to report fraud may be grounds for dismissal.
The board also has adopted new policies, including having internal auditors at NDSU and UND report to the board and no longer letting university foundations manage building projects.
“We don’t want this to happen again,” Espegard said. “With the oversight that’s going to be there when we’re done, it won’t happen again.”
Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, said NDSU is seen across the state as a “bad actor” and has a “huge image problem.”
“Does the newly hired president truly understand the uphill battle that he has with image in the state of North Dakota,” Kelsch asked.
Goetz said Dean Bresciani, the president who begins at NDSU Tuesday, will make restoring NDSU’s credibility his top priority.
Committee chairman Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said it’s encouraging to see higher education board members paying more attention to oversight now. But some legislators will question whether the university system should oversee building projects, Skarphol said.
“I suspect there’s enough angst in the Legislature that there will be those who will want more significant changes,” Skarphol said.
Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, said she hopes the audit findings don’t prompt legislators to try to micromanage higher education.
“My concern is that in our haste to slap some hands that probably very well need to be slapped that we also negate a part of the program that has worked well and will hurt the state of North Dakota,” Hawken said.
Amy Dalrymple is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum C ommunications Co.