The Lowlights Of The UND/NDSU Performance Audit
Yesterday, State Auditor Bob Peterson released the long-awaited performance audit report on the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University. This report, dated June 5, 2012, focused primarily on how both institutions collected, accounted for, and expended various mandatory, program, course, and other fees charged to students. It also addressed concerns with the practices of both universities as they pertained to stewardship of public funds, procurement compliance, and safeguarding state resources.
In short, things are a mess. What is worse is both institutions seemed to only dig themselves a deeper hole with many of their
excuses responses to the recommendations of the audit; responses that were in a few instances characterized by the auditor as “irrelevant and misleading.” But the facts uncovered in the audit speak for themselves, and many defy the logic of both sound stewardship of public funding, as well as outright common sense.
Below are some of the “lowlights” of the audit. We call them “lowlights” because they can hardly be described as highlights.
Before these are addressed, however, a basic understanding of the “fees” mentioned above is in order:
Mandatory fees generally support costs associated with services, activities, facilities and infrastructure that support students outside the classroom
Program fees are intended to meet exceptional and unique needs in a program and not those common to all programs, and are intended to benefit those students enrolled in a specific program
Course fees are charged to students enrolled in certain individual courses. Institutions may charge “Special course fees to cover added and unique costs specifically related to a particular course.”
Other fees are, in short, fees authorized by the university system which do not otherwise fall into the other categories above. An example is an application fee
Selected lowlights, by fee type, follow:
Mandatory Fee Lowlights
o Both schools were found to have instances in which fees collected did not appear to be used for intended purposes
o NDSU purchased Bison deco tiles ($3,625) to be handed out to individuals attending the Memorial Union re-dedication, an iPod shuffle used as a door prize at a staff appreciation event, and gift cards
o UND used mandatory fees to pay certain lunch and coffee expenses, and for catering costs for two leadership award receptions (over $2,100)
o Sandy Blunt, former Workforce Safety Insurance Director, was convicted in court for taking similar liberties with public funds.
Both schools also were found to have collected mandatory fees from students, and then to have transferred the funds potentially for uses not meeting the purposes of mandatory fees.
Program Fee Lowlights
o NDSU used over $20,000 of program fee moneys in an employee separation agreement, as well as raises for other employees and social events totaling $35,000
o UND used over $8,000 of program fee moneys for printing and shipping costs related to publishing the North Dakota Law Review, and to pay for a faculty member’s personal membership renewal in the Pennsylvania Bar Association
o $26,000 was expended for tables and chairs for a UND nursing classroom
Course Fee Lowlights
o NDSU used course fees to pay for accreditation related expenses
o UND Aerospace courses were used for an employee to attend the National Air Traffic Controller Association Convention in Honolulu, Hawaii
“Other” Fee Lowlights
o NDSU used over $11,000 of grad school application fee moneys to reimburse a Dean for the cost of a 1st class airfare ticket to India. The Governor does not even get to fly first class when he travels by airline, regardless of destination
o UND spent $,5,500 of grad school application fees to send a Dean to a student recruiting and retention workshop in Puerto Rico, and another $900 to pay health insurance for a student who already had a tuition waiver to attend school
These are just a few of many instances discovered by the audit process which generated 24 recommendations for improvement. Some findings are plain scary in nature. But what is outright frightening is we currently have no choice but to trust the same people who allowed these indiscretions to occur in the first place, to fix the problems identified. Right now, they seem content expending nearly a month and a half playing the CYA games at the expense of taxpayers and the students they are supposed to serve.
Higher Education governance in North Dakota needs fundamental change.Tags: audit, higher education, North Dakota News, north dakota state university, student fees, University of North Dakota