Attorney At Heart Of DSU Foundation Mess Was Spokesman Against Measure 3


It’s ironic that, shortly after voters rejected Measure 3 which was put on the ballot by a frustrated Legislature to address problems in higher education by restructuring the university system’s governance, the system once again finds itself embroiled in scandal. The Dickinson State University Foundation is in chaos, with finances so thoroughly screwed up that auditors can’t make heads nor tails of them. Meanwhile, the North Dakota University System office is trying to push out its two top accountability officers who say they are being targeted for retribution.

While Measure 3 might not have been the “silver bullet” to solve these problems, it would have at least cleared the decks on the current leadership and put in place a stronger, full-time commission to govern the universities.

Regardless, it is interesting that one of the spokesman for the campaign against Measure 3 is apparently at the heart of the DSU Foundation debacle. In fact, it appears as though he was the one who decided the founation could use scholarship dollars to cover operating expenses.

This is from the Dickinson Press today, in a heart-wrenching story about a family wondering if the scholarship they created in the memory of their dead son has handled correctly:

According to a focused review performed by Fargo-based accounting firm in August, Thompson and Young were told by the Paul Ebeltoft, the foundation’s attorney, that restricted funds could be used to cover operating expenses and collateral for loans.

“I am very disappointed and concerned, because we set this up in memory of our son and we want the students to benefit from this scholarship so that his passion lives on in others,” Michele Burian said. “We are worried about the integrity of the scholarship.”

Paul Ebeltoft was also leading the charge against Measure 3:

Paul Ebeltoft, a spokesman with Citizens for Higher Education, said Measure 3 would be an intrusion on the state’s citizen-based education policymaking. He referred to it as “taking a Howitzer” to a problem that could be solved with a BB gun.

“It goes beyond (the) Legislature’s role of watching the purse strings,” Ebeltoft said. “It goes toward simply a desire to control.”

Ebeltoft, who was a SBHE member in the 1990s, said the board should be given the opportunity to right the ship, which he believes is being done.

“With any volunteer citizens’ organization, you’re going to have variances in performance,” Ebeltoft said.

In recent years, the board has dealt with violations of open records law as well as buying out Chancellor Hamid Shirvani after only a year on the job.

The board also has drawn headlines after lawmakers looked into purchases of a nursing college in Bismarck by North Dakota State University and a research building by the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Ebeltoft said, given time, the board can put its problems behind it. In addition, he said the North Dakota University System has a strong staff to back the board.

“I think there’s (still) support for the concept of the board,” Ebeltoft said.

You can’t make this stuff up.