Another Dark Chapter For North Dakota's University System

The Dickinson Press has an excellent op/ed about the financial scandal at the Dickinson State University Foundation.

Two weeks ago, responding to an open records request I had put in for an arbitration ruling, DSU President D.C. Coston (seen earlier this year looking for an exit strategy in Wisconsin) sent a video message to campus staff distancing himself and the university from the DSU Foundation. He claimed, as these university types often do when it is politically expedient, that the DSU Foundation is a separate and private entity from the university.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”It would be nice if we didn’t have these problems in the university system. They are emblematic of a total lack of accountability and leadership at the universities. But the efforts to hide those problems are emblematic of something worse. A lack of integrity.”

[/mks_pullquote]But now Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is pushing the DSU Foundation into receivership, and things are so bad North Dakota University System Chancellor Larry Skogen says things are so bad the accreditation for the university is at risk, and suddenly Coston’s claim that the foundation is separate from the university is a little hard to swallow.

The Press editorial does a good job of summing up the problems, though the scope is hard to quantify at this point. Apparently the foundation’s finances are in such a state of disarray that auditors can’t make heads or tails.

What is clear at this point is that the foundation was being mismanaged. The foundation has apparently been using donor dollars inappropriately. Including, possibly, dollars intended for student scholarships which has left some students at DSU wondering what the status of their scholarships are.

That’s an absolute travesty.

Along the way the foundation has attempted to stymie efforts from the media to look into its murky finances, claiming as Coston continues to maintain that they are a separate and private entity to which open records laws don’t apply. Thankfully Stenehjem has ruled otherwise, finding in a series of opinion (one requested by the Press and another requested by me concerning the NDSU Development Foundation) that these spin-off foundations at the universities were created by public entities to serve a public purpose and thus must be accountable to the public.

But accountability, as we all know, is a big problem for the university system. They’d rather hide these sort of issues from the public, and that’s exactly what happened in this instance.

Coston himself admits in his video that he’s had knowledge of the problems at the DSU Foundation for some time, and while he may not be culpable for creating those problems, what did he do to fix them? What did he do to notify students that their scholarships might be in jeopardy? Why did Coston sit by while the DSU Foundation fought open records request seeking to expose these problems which, at the time, were only rumors?

It would be nice if we didn’t have these problems in the university system. They are emblematic of a total lack of accountability and leadership at the universities. But the efforts to hide those problems are emblematic of something worse.

A lack of integrity.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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