Dickinson State University Attempting To Hide Survey Data From Public

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The results of a new campus quality survey of faculty at the beleaguered Dickinson State University show that, despite efforts by North Dakota University System officials to spin it, the problems there are far from over.

“From the previous survey in 2010, the percentage of individuals who reported they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their employment at DSU dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent,” reported the Dickinson Press earlier this week, “the lowest combined percentage since the bi-annual surveys began in 2002.”

And things may actually be worse. Despite making full disclosures to the public of previous campus quality surveys, Dickinson State University is now busy working with their lawyers to limit public disclosure of this most recent survey to only a version edited by the university:

“I have not seen it,” [DSU President D.C.]Coston said of the report. “It’s been floating around several places. We’ve been advised by our legal counsel to wait until they have time to review it and to see what’s appropriate to release under the open records law. At times, there have been different interpretations of what’s in (the Century Code) and we’re waiting for full guidance from our legal counsel.” …

Although previous versions of the CQS obtained by The Press, including the 2010 report, were received in full, the 2012 version was delivered with faculty, administration and department names left blank in the comments section.

DSU spokesperson Marie Moe said the university is withholding certain aspects of the “non-aggregate” data in Section 5 — which contains the comments portion of the survey — of the report due to legal concerns. Moe also indicated there is more than one version of the report.

North Dakota Newspaper Association legal counsel Jack McDonald said the Century Code states that records held by public entities are public records unless there is a state law that provides otherwise. The Press has placed an open records request for the complete survey.

“No provision is listed under the open records law to protect what DSU officials indicated were ‘non-aggregate’ data,” McDonald said. “Under state law, a request for records denial must provide legal authority for the denial.”

Keep in mind that the North Dakota University System, under former Chancellor Bill Goetz, bullied KFYR Television out of Bismarck to quit digging into the original enrollment scandal. This attempt by DSU officials to clamp down on the release of a campus quality survey is just the latest chapter in the North Dakota’s lengthy history of using legal wrangling and intimidation to avoid transparency and accountability.

It’s shameful, and keep in mind that this is happening in the context of the university system asking legislators for a big budget increase that would, in part, pay for a large increase in accountants and auditors in the university system office. This request is being justified by proponents as a way to increase accountability in the university system and avoid more embarrassing scandals.

But all those new accountants and auditors would be internal to the university system, and report to the same university system bosses that have proven themselves something less than honest in their dealings with the state’s elected officials and the public.

Do we really think we’re going to solve the university system’s problems with corruption and abuse of taxpayer dollars by giving university system officials more flunkies and bigger budgets?

“The state’s public higher education system has 17,500 employees, including 4,000 faculty members,” writes the Bismarck Tribune in an editorial today. “The idea that the chancellor needs to hire 30 more employees to monitor the existing administrators, faculty members and staffs strains belief.”

The North Dakota University System needs more external scrutiny, not more internal bloat. That the university system works so hard to avoid external scrutiny, with this shameful exercise in legal maneuvering at DSU serving as the latest example, is proof of the truth of that statement.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Roy_Bean

    Is this the same “legal counsel” that told them it was OK to give diplomas to Chinese students who had not completed the necessary course of study? Did this same counsel advise them that it was OK to report false student numbers? For some reason this sudden concern for complying with state law just doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy.

    • Truth Seeker

      The “legal counsel” probably is Governor Dalrymple. Look at this newsletter page 7 that has Richard McCallum with the Governor in China together in March of 2010 http://www.dickinsonstate.edu/uploadedFiles/DSU/Content/DSU_News/Signal_Butte/136560%20DSU%20low%20res.pdf

      • Truth Seeker

        meant page 7 or 8 depending if you go by actual newsletter page or pdf page http://www.dickinsonstate.edu/uploadedFiles/DSU/Content/DSU_News/Signal_Butte/136560%20DSU%20low%20res.pdf

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          I’m not sure what that proves. Dalrymple posed for a picture with DSU employees in China?

          So what?

          • Truth Seeker

            It shows Dalrymple lead a State of North Dakota trade mission to China in March 2010 with DSU and NDSU officials part of Dalrymple’s entourage. This trade mission resulted in the beginning of Confucius Institutes and Chinese schools DSU partnered with during this trade mission trip sent some of the Chinese students to DSU that were improperly enrolled.

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            Ok, fine, but that doesn’t mean that Dalrymple knew they’d start giving degrees away.

            If Dalrymple knew, by all means let’s get him, but let’s also not get carried away drawing conclusions from such thoroughly circumstantial evidence.

          • Truth Seeker

            That does mean that Dalrymple probably is involved in efforts to sweep the Dickinson State issues under the rug. Why was Dalrymple so quiet about the scandal when, during, and after it errupted? Dalrymple’s China connections and involvement – if any – with the Dickinson State scandal deserve examination. That is all I am saying.

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            It’s fair speculation, but the problem is “probably.”

            We’re talking about major crimes, and looping the governor into those charges shouldn’t be done lightly.

          • Alan

            Yet you seem to want to tie the current Chancellor to the problem without any such due diligence.

      • RCND

        Hmmmm now that’s pretty interesting. No wonder the DSU scandal is only a “distraction ” according to JD. Wonder what he knew and when he knew it.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      They’re not concerned with compliance. They’re concerned with hiding the records.

  • Big Bully

    This cow is sacred, untouchable and eats a lot of something green and her droppings come in little cellophane bags with ribbon on them. Is this the fourth, fifth or sixth rail in North Dakota? It’s got to be up there somewhere. We seem to aspire to level of sophistication that we do not need – and ultimately will not be able to afford. And we think the Federal Government has spending problems! The only difference is they are broke and we keep stacking up money at the capital that has less and less value every day as the Feds keep the printing presses thundering along. I remember talking to my German landlord in in the early 60’s and there were times in the past where they couldn’t buy a loaf of bread for 25,000 marks. Don’t laugh, we are of the same human species.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Meanwhile Forum Communications yesterday had a glowing profile of higher Ed and the new direction they want to go in, even as DSU screws another Forum Communications publication on public records.

      I wonder if Forum reporters have to run their articles by the NDUS’ media people first,

  • Stuart

    What a wicked web we weave….where are the liberals and Democrats that use to say,”The people have the right to know”! Was that only selective in nature?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      We have a right to know the good things. They’re willing to spend a lot of our tax dollars on lawyers to keep the bad things a secret.

  • Stuart

    As an ex-educator myself, one can cheat to make the records appear any way you want. It’s the presentation to the public that is important …and always ask the Board for more money than you need. Then you will get more the year after and the year after that. Regardless of how good these students are educated. There is no such thing as preparing a rainy day fund. It’s spend spend spend like money grows on trees.

    Had a friend from Texas who teaches,and he told me that they had so much money allocated that they had to invent classes to update teachers and the teachers got $200 a day just to attend the bogus classes. The system is broken beyond repair..it’s all politics now..

  • cylde

    Businesses have to hire outside auditors because only an outsider can be believed, auditors that are hired by the university can be fired as well or never get a pay raise or promotion.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Exactly. Internal auditors aren’t going to fix anything..

  • Alan

    From everything I read no “legal counsel” gave DSU permission to grant illegal degrees or falsify student enrollment data. It also was the new and only internal auditor that exposed both the student enrollment issues and the degree scam. Note the external state auditors had not uncovered this in their efforts previously.

    What many on this blog do not understand is that it often takes one familiar with a business and its workings to uncover wrongdoing. That appears to be the type of oversight the new Chancellor is seeking. UND and NDSU have their internal auditors who work for the institution presidents and nothing will ever be reported out by them critical of the institutions. The oversight needs to be at the Board and system level. Too bad many would rather attack him and his efforts to clean things up rather than seeking the real truth.

    The same claims being made could be made about state auditors that they will hide anything critical to the State or Governor. If one hires an audit firm the report goes to the person who hired them and they too can sanitize their report.

    The real issue is oversight and accountability. If mistakes are made hold people accountable but provide the resources to ensure oversight. Right now too many want accountability with staff for oversight.

    • guest

      I agree with much of what you say, only with a few exceptions. DC Coston testified to legislators that higher learning commission members made him and DSU officials aware of potential problems with international students at a meeting in Chicago. DC said he then went back and requested the NDUS internal audit of the international students at DSU. Mr. Eggert has done a fantastic job and deserves much credit, however it is not completely fair of NDUS and BHE members to act as if they’re heroes in this. Mr. Eggert certainly seems to be but not the Board members and system office. Furthermore, the Board and system officials tried to cover up DSU issues. Emails highlight that Board President Grant Shaft, former Chacncellor Bill Goetz and others in higher ed leadership were made aware of problems at DSU months before the media helped drag the issues out, with Board leadership practically kicking and screaming when it became exposed. Some still remain on the Board today. Grant Shaft and Duane Espegard particularly. Your belief that auditors should report to the board and system level is correct for the most part, however it doesn’t work too well if the Board is corrupt. There certainly are plenty of new faces in NDUS leadership today however what good does it do if the same leadership is in place now that allowed the problems to occur when they did?

    • guest

      Additionally, I am confused as to why the state auditors stopped digging with the DSU performance audit late into Mr. McCallum’s predecessor’s, Mr. Vickers, term as president. Why did they stop there?

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