North Dakota lawmakers want to audit the supposedly private foundations that associate themselves with our public universities, and for good reason based on recent events.
When the UND Research Foundation couldn’t make ends meet on the REAC Building they dumped it on the taxpayers last year. When the Dickinson State University Foundation, currently in receivership thanks to a series of bad investments, couldn’t make good on student scholarships it was up to the taxpayers to bail them out. The way the business of our universities is intermingled with the foundations there’s no question that the foundations themselves present huge potential liabilities for the taxpayers.
But the foundations don’t want to be audited. They are sort of like the “too big to fail” banks. They want to be private, except for when they’re in need of a bailout. They’re private, except for when North Dakota state employees are spending their time on the taxpayer’s clock raising money for them. NDSU President Dean Bresciani has basically admitted to the media that he spends more time fundraising for the “private” NDSU Development Foundation than he does administering NDSU.
Earlier this year the foundations requested an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office regarding the legal authority of the state to audit them. The answer? Under current law the state doesn’t have the authority.
So lawmakers have now fixed that problem. They’ve changed the law to give themselves that authority, and now they’re moving ahead with audits of the university foundations. But NDSU President Dean Bresciani would like us all to know that the state auditors are probably too stupid to understand the deep complexities of higher education (emphasis mine):
Although the state auditor’s office cannot charge the foundations for the performance audits, the foundations will be charged if the office needs to hire a special consultant, which Bresciani said is likely.
“With no slight to the auditor’s office, their auditors are young, typically not experienced and broadly much less in higher education, so they do their best, but their level of expertise on what’s normal in public higher education is challenged,” he said.
Bresciani has trotted this line out before, and it always amazes me how aggressively self-serving it is. He’s basically saying that the only people qualified to hold higher education accountable is people who work in higher education.
The “private” foundations claim they have nothing to hide from auditors and are only concerned about the cost. I find that a little hard to believe, but I guess we’ll see. I do think we should question the wisdom of having someone like Bresciani, a habitual and flagrant violator of state open records laws and an aggressive opponent of transparency and accountability policies in general, in such a high-paying public position.
The audits are a good thing, but really we just need a better sort of person in leadership positions in higher education.