ND Higher Ed Officials Suggest Auditors Not Smart Enough To Grasp “Complexity” Of The Universities
Today the North Dakota legislature’s Audit and Fiscal Review Committee heard testimony from higher education officials about recent audit findings showing inappropriate use and lax accounting of student fees.
Higher education officials like Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and NDSU President Dean Bresciani were dismissive of the audit. Shirvani told legislators that many of the problems the auditors flagged weren’t really problems at all but rather “common practice” in higher education. Bresciani, for his part, praised what he described as “objective” audits which found no problems with NDSU’s fee structure before panning what he called the “subjective” report from the North Dakota auditor’s office.
See how that works? The state auditor isn’t objective. Only these other, unnamed audits that praise NDSU’s record are “objective.” That these university officials were displeased with the state auditors sticking their noses into higher ed business, despite the de rigueur pleasantries, was evident.
Unbelievably, Bresciani dismissed the auditor’s findings claiming nobody without a background in higher education management and finance is fit to audit the university system. Which is a handy ruse, I guess, because the only people in the state with that sort of background in a position to audit the university system are…working for the university system.
I guess Bresciani would like us to believe that the complexities of North Dakota State University, a rather smallish institution relative to those in other states with a not-so-great reputation for transparency, accountability and academic performance is simply too much for the simpletons and rubes we elect to office to govern this state. But even if Bresciani were right, if our public universities are too large to be audited by our public officials, then perhaps these institutions need to be downsized dramatically.
Toward the end, state Senator Randy Christmann (who is currently running for the Public Service Commission) said he felt the need to defend himself “as a legislature” from some of the accusations made by higher ed officials about low funding and restrictive policies (Shirvani has requested a doubling of his staff in the chancellor’s office). First, Christmann addressed demands from higher education officials for more employees to provide more oversight.
“If we need a compliance officer to tell university employees that using these fees to buy first class tickets to India is out of line, then I’m really frustrated that our employees need to be told that,” he said. “It is a matter of right and wrong and our employees should know that.”
Christmann also addressed the notion that the universities are underfunded, putting the blame for any shortage of funds on management decisions made by university officials. “No matter how much money we would pour into the university system, if we go out and recruit hard enough and waive enough tuition we can once again find ourselves short and have to make it up elsewhere such as fees,” he said. “While we limit the tuition these universities can charge, we don’t require them to go out and recruit and we don’t require them to waive as much tuition as they do.”
Combined NDSU and UND gave away $23.8 million in tuition last year. Since 2001, North Dakota general fund spending on higher education has grown at a rate 4.5x faster than enrollment growth:
Here’s the audio highlights from the hearing including the quotes from above. I’ll post video/audio from the entire hearing later.