State Lawmakers don’t just want to root out lower-level Dickinson State University personnel responsible for the false enrollment reporting and financial wrongdoing at the school. “For us to just say, well, we’ll sweep it under the rug, I can’t buy that,” said House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo) at Tuesday’s interim Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee meeting where state lawmakers discussed a recent performance audit of DSU that was conducted by the State Auditor’s Office.
State lawmakers want to find out just how high responsibility for the scandal goes. “I hope that the Chancellor’s Office has some comments on this because what is their responsibility? What’s their role in this whole thing? I want to know…What do we do up in the (NDUS) office to make sure this doesn’t happen?” said Carlson.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz obliged and took on some tough questions. “We are, today, dwelling on this performance audit. I wish we could spend as much time talking about the tremendous university system that we have and all of the good that has taken place on behalf of our students and citizenry,” said Goetz.
But state lawmakers want to find out exactly who did what. “This is an embarrassment to the North Dakota higher education system when it comes on the national news that we’re a diploma mill,” said Carlson.
The House Majority Leader zeroed in on oversight at DSU. “How do you view the role of your office and the board (State Board of Higher Education) in this whole situation? I mean, there’s no responsibility there? There is responsibility there? I mean, I’m having trouble following the chain of command here?” said Carlson.
Goetz offered an answer. “We have policies in place. We’ve got discretion of campuses, in terms of the handling of tuition and tuition waivers. The reports are reviewed and looked at, in terms of those amounts. And the greater share of the tuition waivers system-wide are at NDSU and UND, and most of those all relate to graduate students. When we looked at Dickinson State and the tuition waivers that were being granted, I, at that time, when I saw the report, the first report in this regard, I was very concerned about the international student population, in terms of numbers on campus of which I had discussions with President McCallum about, being very concerned. And so in regard to my communication, looking at the report, when something like this does stand-out, it, in this case, was taken-up with the president and certainly has evolved to the point where we are today,” said Goetz.
Carlson says the DSU situation is an embarrassment to the entire North Dakota University System and they’re not happy with the situation. “Chancellor, does the board and the board office have policies on tuition waivers today?” said Carlson.
Goetz responded. “That’s an institutional matter, in terms of decisions that are made, with the exception of the tuition waivers that are in law and we have any number of those that have been responded to by legislation as determined by the Legislature,” said Goetz.
Carlson asked Goetz if he received a campus report from DSU that detailed tuition waivers that the school was granting. “We get, Mr. Chairman, Representative Carlson, we get that and we receive that information. Yes, by way of a report,” said Goetz.
Carlson asked Goetz what he does with that information when he receives it. “Obviously this has been going on a while and you would think there would have been a red flag waiving all over the place here?” said Carlson.
Goetz questioned Carlson about what he meant about a red flag. “The quantity and the amount of waivers being granted, a dollar volume for a fairly small budget campus,” said Carlson.
Various reports submitted to the Chancellor’s Office by DSU over the years contained warnings that something was wrong at the school. “Is there someone in your office in charge of this? I mean, do you have someone who deals with the tuitions and the waivers and the enrollment numbers, all those things? Is somebody in charge of that, that should have been waiving the flag for you?” said Carlson.
Goetz told Carlson that the report comes into the NDUS office and is reviewed by the Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs and also the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Goetz pointed out that the report is also given to the State Board of Higher Education. “So we talk about a bunch of changes coming at Dickinson State. Should there be changes in your office on how this is reviewed?” said Carlson.
Goetz told Carlson that he’s not sure. “Obviously we look at issues as they arise in an organization the size of what we have and the depth of staffing that we have. We do the best we can in conducting those reviews. And the fact of the matter is that we have tuition waivers as one isolated issue and that is what’s being drawn upon, in terms of minimizing the university system office. I can tell you there are a lot of issues that we deal with on a daily basis that are far beyond just the tuition waiver issue,” said Goetz.
State lawmakers say the issues at DSU impact all of the other colleges and universities in North Dakota. “That can’t be helping recruiting for our other 10 universities out there. I had a lady call me from Canada who said my daughter wants to come down to Dickinson State on a volleyball scholarship but with what we read in the news, we’re afraid to send her down there,” said Carlson.
Goetz told Carlson that the North Dakota University System is confronted by challenges, as it has been. “Our (new) president at Dickinson State (D.C. Coston) has been working on this 24/7. I call him during the day and I ask him how are you doing? And he says I’m still vertical…which is a good sign. But let’s not forget, this audit, in my mind, serves a real purpose, not only in making determinations of the issues that exist on that campus, but I tell you, it’s a lesson of learning. It’s a symbolic thing and it better run deeper than that for our other institutions,” said Goetz.
State lawmakers hope DSU’s issues aren’t symbolic of a bigger, system-wide problem. “We’re talking about this issue at Dickinson State University. It’s concerning. And I’m wondering how much of a comfort level we should have that at other institutions there may not be other issues equally disturbing that we’re not aware of? And very honestly that’s very concerning to me,” said Rep. Bob Skarphol (R-Tioga).
Goetz says he lives with that concern on a daily basis. “You always have that behind you, behind you in terms of my role. I guess we could ask the same question of each of you, in terms of the organization, the business enterprises that you operate, and the decisions that you make relative to the unknown of employees. And it’s not something that I can say doesn’t exist or maybe issues, obviously. But you have great reliance upon your presidents, the employees of the campus, that in fact they are doing things right. And when you have issues that begin to arise and you detect that there is things that look inappropriate you follow-up and you act accordingly. And that’s true of any business organization. It’s true of any agency in state government that I can think of,” said Goetz.
State lawmakers want to get to the bottom of things and plan to further address the state’s higher ed situation at next month’s interim Higher Ed Committee meeting. “Should everybody that was involved, that knew about this, just walk to the side and say I guess it’s ok because we fired the president? I don’t think so,” said Carlson.