Legislators Friendly To Higher Ed Seek To Gut Power Of The State Auditor


Over the last couple of years the State Auditor Bob Peterson’s office has produced some very inconvenient reports for the university system. When the State Auditor was looking into the Dickinson State University “diploma mill” fiasco they pushed back against efforts by then-university system Chancellor Bill Goetz to limit the scope of the audit.

Eventually that audit uncovered hundreds of phony diplomas issued to foreign students, among other serious problems.

The State Auditor’s office also embarrassed the university system by uncovering abuse of student fees last year. Multiple universities were found to be charging unnecessary fees, and using fee revenues for inappropriate purposes, much to the ire of university officials.

So maybe it’s not surprising that some of our legislators well-known to be “in the tank” for higher education – Senators Judy Lee, Tony Grindberg and Larry Robinson as well as Rep. Kathy Hawken – have proposed legislation gutting the independence of the state auditor’s office. SB2149 would prohibit the state auditor’s office from initiating its own audits and rather require that all audits be approved by the the legislature.

I don’t know how this bill can be seen as anything other than retribution against the State Auditor’s office for causing the university system headaches.

The bill is set to have a hearing before the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee tomorrow at 11:00am. One would hope the committee would recognize that the auditor’s office should be commended, not punished, for providing much-needed external accountability for the university system which has proven itself, time and again, to be incapable of holding itself accountable.

The university system has asked for a big budget increase, and a lot of new employees, to provide more internal oversight specifically to avoid scandals such as the one at Dickinson State. The legislature ought to be providing those resources to the State Auditor for external oversight.