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Published September 19 2010

Forum editorial: View NDSU audit in proper context

Recent headlines generated by higher education audits might suggest to some that North Dakota’s universities, specifically North Dakota State University, are on the precipice of management Armageddon. Nothing could be further from reality.

An audit of specific transactions at NDSU indeed did expose failures to adhere to accepted financial practices. Auditors also found controls and safeguards that might have prevented slipshod conduct were circumvented, misunderstood or missing altogether.

That being said, the auditors’ report is not fatal. On the broad landscape of NDSU’s management and mission, the audit findings are not terribly important. The missteps were symptoms of an extraordinary period of dynamism at NDSU. As school enrollment, curricula and research grew at unprecedented rates, financial and other systems stumbled, in part because they were not up to speed. Errors were not purposeful but rather were fallout from pressures and demands never before encountered on campus. That’s no excuse. It’s an explanation.

Auditors included recommendations – many of which were in place before the audit investigation – to ensure against future problems. A new president and his team have embraced changes that will avoid the mistakes of the past.

While the auditors’ work is valuable, it should not be seen as more than it is. The number crunchers did their job and made recommendations that fall within the narrow scope of an audit. Auditors should not make policy for the university, nor should legislators and others use an audit to punish a university that has evolved from a good regional school into a world-class center of education and research. Viewed in the proper context, the NDSU audits are useful tools that should be used to enhance and advance the remarkable strides the campus has made in the past decade.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.