Why The University System Needs To Lose Control Of Their Lawyers And Auditors

Before the state Legislature convened for the crossover break, the House passed a university system budget that trimmed Governor Jack Dalrymple’s proposed spending increase and included a number of reforms for how the universities are governed. Among them, the budget moves the universities lawyers and auditors to the control of the Attorney General and State Auditor offices, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the university presidents threw a five hour fit at the State Board of Higher Education immediately following the budget’s passage in the House, and the shift in control over auditors and lawyers was one of the biggest bones of contention.

But as further proof of why this change needs to happen, consider these two emails sent by former NDUS lawyer Kirsten Franzen to SBHE member Kathleen Neset obtained via an open records request. Franzen, SAB readers will remember, was one of two people fired by the university system earlier this year because (I believe) they weren’t playing ball with the status quo in the university system. Franzen, specifically, was fired because she supposedly tipped me off about an open meetings violation by the State Board of Higher Education (she didn’t).

Franzen mentions that violation, and the complaint I filed with the Attorney General’s office while it was happening (I was tipped off by someone at the meeting but I’m not going to help the NDUS witch hunt by saying who), in her email to Neset but the larger context of the emails is deeply troubling.

Franzen describes an atmosphere of mistrust where a select few work to control information, and those who aren’t playing ball are retaliated against. She specifically mentions the investigation into former Chief Auditor Timothy Carlson’s alleged resume falsities noting that it seemed Carlson was being singled out for especially harsh treatment (Carlson was the auditor fired along with Franzen). As I reported earlier, another former NDUS attorney had alleged that Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Laura Glatt had manipulated Carlson’s hiring process in favor of another candidate and had even made disparaging comments about Carlson’s age (something the NDUS has refused to investigate).

Recently Chancellor Larry Skogen has been on something of a media blitz suggesting that the problems with the university system are only misconceptions. “People have this perception that no one in higher education is held accountable,” Skogen told a Forum Communications reporter, but he says the perception is untrue.

Read Franzen’s emails, and tell me if the perception of a lack of transparency and accountability rings true to you. Tell me if you think the auditors and lawyers who ensure transparency and compliance with the law in the university system should report to the university system or to third parties.

This reform is needed. Desperately.

Kirsten Franzen Emails

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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