I say that Dickinson State University is losing money for scholarships not because they’ll never get it – the folks on the North Dakota Challenge Fund Grant Review Committee say the money will be available when the DSU Foundation’s financial problems are ironed out – but because time marches on for the students who were to be beneficiaries of that money. They cannot very easily put their academic careers on hold to wait for thos money.
Perhaps DSU will find alternative ways to fund those scholarships, but for now the funding is gone and the students who would have benefitted them are left in a lurch.
Not that you can blame the Challenge Fund committee. “[A]s stewards of these tax dollars, we just felt as though it wouldn’t be appropriate of us at this time to disburse the match dollars until we have every assurance that the accounts and everything is squared away out there,” Lt. Governor Drew Wrigley said of the decision, and he’s exactly right. The DSU Foundation has destroyed its own reputation, and the public’s trust, by prioritizing building projects over students.
What the DSU Foundation fiasco reveals, however, is how foolish it is to believe it when the universities say their foundations are separate entities. That’s absolutely false.
The universities like to perpetuate that myth as a hedge against oversight and accountability from elected leaders – another facet of that much-touted higher education “independence” apologists for the universities are always going on about – but it’s simply not true. And the DSU situation proves it.
The Challenge Fund cannot make a payment of public dollars to a public university because a supposedly private foundation is having financial difficulties?
If the only channel through which a public university can accept donations is through a foundation established for no other purpose than to handle donations for the university then the foundation is not private. It is a public entity, and ought to be governed just like the rest of the public entity.
When the DSU Foundation problems first began to come to light, DSU President D.C. Coston (seen recently looking for an exit strategy in Wisconsin) immediately tried to distance his public university from the supposedly private foundation. Yet, what happens at the private foundation has huge implications for the public university.
So the foundation is not really private at all.