There’s no question that the chaotic finances at the Dickinson State University Foundation – which features the apparently wrongful use of restricted funds which may well rise to the level of a crime – is a scandal. That’s the accurate word for it.
But today at a meeting of the State Board of Higher Education Chancellor Larry Skogen, by way of delivering a report on the mess to board members, did his best to minimize the problem. Which is typical of the administrative style of the university system. Rather than acknowledging the failures in leadership and oversight which have led us to this problem, Skogen instead tried to claim that the foundation is completely independent from the university.
Which is a little hard to believe when Skogen also acknowledges that the foundation’s finances represent a threat to the university’s accreditation.
Given the threat foundations can, and in this instance do, represent for the well-being of our higher education institutions shouldn’t we admit that they aren’t really some completely separate, completely private organization? That such proclamations have more to do with dodging responsibility than reality?
If the universities have staked their accreditation and reputations on completely private foundations they have no responsibility for, then shame on them for making such poor administrative choices.
If they do have a degree of oversight when it comes to these organizations, then shame on Skogen and others for ducking their obligations to take responsibility.
Update: More from The Dickinson Press:
Emails between the Foundation, DSU and Skogen have shown that while the university system had been communicating with the two related institutions, there was no action taken until the Foundation lost a $1.6 million arbitration to Granville Brinkman, the developer of Hawks Point, and both former CEO Kevin Thompson and board president David Schultz hastily resigned from the organization. Thompson resigned in late October and Schultz silently exited earlier this month.
It wasn’t until the Foundation was scrambling to fill its top leadership positions and struggling to fix accounting problems that had been known since at least the previous year that Skogen and the university system brought the issue to Stenehjem’s attention.
The announcement of the now serious state of the Foundation — and in turn DSU — raises questions of why state officials did not move more quickly to shore up the Foundation’s finances to protect donors, student scholarships and the university.
Given how adamant Skogen and others are that the DSU Foundation is a separate entity, they’re clearly worried about blowback.