That was the headline from the Associated Press this weekend, reporting on the REAC building controversy at the University of North Dakota. Last week Chancellor Larry Skogen apologized for the handling of the matter during a meeting of the State Board of Higher Education (after previously telling the media that all was fine with the deal). The legislature specifically ordered that the building’s sale be negotiated by the SBHE and not University of North Dakota officials who also controlled the UND Research Foundation which was the owner. That didn’t happen.
UND officials negotiated with themselves, and the taxpayers got a raw deal, which is something Republicans and Democrats agree on with both Senator Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, and Senator Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, saying the deal stinks:
“The bank got 110 cents on a dollar, plus a very hefty loan they made at a very hefty interest rate,” Holmberg said.
Said Schneider: “I think there should have been more of an arm’s length transaction to ensure that the costs didn’t fall on people like my constituents who are funding UND through their tuition dollars, as well as taxpayers who play an important funding role.”
It’s good that Chancellor Skogen has taken responsibility for the deal, though it’s hard to imagine how taxpayers are going to see any relief now that the deal is done and can’t likely be undone. It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that the value of the building has fallen precipitously from the more than $17 million it cost to build to the $9.8 million it was sold for.
What I’m wondering is, who at the University of North Dakota is going to take responsibility for this shoddy deal? Because while Skogen has some blame as Chancellor, he just signed off on a deal negotiated by other higher ed officials.
UND President Robert Kelly also controlled the now-defunct UND Research Foundation, meaning he was on both sides of this traction. Did Kelly and his fellow UND officials really need to be told by Chancellor Skogen, or the SBHE, or the legislature, not to screw the taxpayers?
If Kelly is in need of such a lesson, perhaps he’s also in need of a job somewhere other than UND.
In related news Bremer, the bank that got the cushy deal out of the REAC building sale, is a $1 million+ contributor to the University of North Dakota.
Just another moment of integrity and accountability brought to you by North Dakota’s university system.