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Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications, Published July 30 2012

Campus leaders: Student fee fixes in the works

WILLISTON, N.D. – University leaders pledged Monday to examine how student fees are managed, but said many issues raised in a recent state audit are already being addressed and some were overblown.

North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani told a group of legislators that many concerns raised in the State Auditor’s Office performance audit on student fees dated back to 2007 and his new administration has made changes to improve accountability.

NDSU also recently adopted a new tuition model that aims to improve transparency and eliminate confusion about fees.

“By this time next year, many if not all of the concerns identified in the auditor’s report will be moot at NDSU,” Bresciani said during a meeting of the Legislature’s Higher Education Committee.

University of North Dakota President Robert Kelley outlined several steps his campus is taking in response to the audit, which found that the two research universities inappropriately spent student fee dollars in some cases.

Some of the steps UND is taking include improving documentation of travel expenses, reporting annually the cash balances in student fee funds and to review all course and program fees to identify areas for improvement, Kelley said.

Luke Brodeur, NDSU’s student body president, told legislators he was disappointed that auditors didn’t seek student input for their report.

Brodeur said NDSU students have more direct involvement with managing their fee dollars than their peers at other universities. NDSU formed a student fee advisory committee about a year ago, Brodeur said.

Some of the examples of inappropriate spending in the audit were not as dramatic as they sound in the audit after he dug deeper, Brodeur said.

For example, the $11,000 first-class plane ticket to India raised in the audit was actually a recruiting trip that included several legs and all but the final leg were business class, Brodeur said.

Several legislators questioned the subjectivity of the audit.

“What appears inappropriate to you may not appear inappropriate to me,” said Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, questioned why the audit didn’t emphasize that no fraud was found in the examination of how dollars were spent.

“We want transparency, but if there is no money missing, shouldn’t that have been the first bullet point out of your audit?” Hawken said.

Audit Manager Gordy Smith said that performance audits are subjective and auditors are required to offer their opinion.

“We’re not trying to ignite anything,” Smith said.

Hamid Shirvani, who took over as chancellor a month ago, said he’ll bring a proposal to the state Board of Higher Education in the next few months to address the audit.

Shirvani said while some of the expenditures were common practice in higher education, there were cases when better judgment should have been exercised.

“We’re going to fix it,” Shirvani said. “That’s what I can promise you.”


Amy Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch. She can be reached at adalrymple@forumcomm.com or (701) 580-6890.


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