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Published February 14 2012

Dickinson State: Dean didn’t know about audit before suicide

DICKINSON, N.D. – Dickinson State University officials say a dean who committed suicide Friday didn’t know about the contents of a scathing audit of some of the school’s international programs that was released the same day.

Doug LaPlante, dean of the College of Education, Business and Applied Sciences, was found dead in a park near campus Friday afternoon of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 59.

His death coincided with the release of an audit that said the school had improperly awarded certificates and degrees to hundreds of foreign students – most of them Chinese – who didn’t finish coursework, furnish proper transcripts from their home universities or meet other requirements.

Many of those students were enrolled in LaPlante’s college, though the dean was not named or directly implicated in the audit.

Marie Moe, director of university relations, said LaPlante missed a meeting Friday morning in which DSU President D.C. Coston disclosed the contents of the audit to his cabinet.

She said Coston hadn’t told LaPlante about the contents beforehand.

“As far as we know, Doug was not aware of the contents of that audit,” Moe said. She also said LaPlante had no apparent ties to the programs under fire.

His death is still under investigation. Police said a university staff member contacted them Friday after LaPlante missed the meeting because his absence was uncharacteristic.

The campus went into lockdown after police said LaPlante was believed to be distraught and carrying a rifle. The lockdown was lifted around 1:45 p.m. after LaPlante’s body was found.

A memorial service was held on campus Tuesday.

Moe said the embattled programs will likely be discontinued.

She said university is working with the 120 students currently enrolled in the programs to obtain proper transcripts and determine next steps. It is also contacting the 584 students who’ve already received degrees and certificates to discuss the audit’s ramifications.

Moe said current students in the program are still eligible for visas because they’re enrolled as DSU students, and they won’t be forced to leave. She said the university is working closely with the Department of Education, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security on the issue.

The university could also face accreditation penalties from the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission.

Dustin Garylow, executive director of the North Dakota Taxpayer’s Association, cited the problematic programs as perils of unchecked growth in higher education in an appearance Tuesday on WDAY Radio’s Jay Thomas Show.

Garylow’s group favors cuts in government and lower taxes. He called out the state’s higher education system for a lack of accountability to taxpayers, and said he expects “there’s going to be a lot more coming down the line” as fallout from the DSU audit continues.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502