BISMARCK — The state's university system may keep a closer eye on North Dakota State College of Science management after a state audit found problems with how the school handled business regarding its planned career academy.
Kathleen Neset, chair of the State Board of Higher Education audit committee, is expected to work with North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott to draft a temporary system oversight plan at NDSCS. No vote was taken during the Wednesday, May 29, audit committee meeting to implement the plan, but it likely will be considered at a future meeting.
“It’s put in place as needed for a duration of time until confidence is rebuilt and trust is restored,” Neset said. “It would be overseeing the management at NDSCS.”
How that oversight will work, when it will begin and how long it will last has yet to be determined, but in the past the SBHE has instructed the university system to monitor work, contracts and decisions at other campuses. NDSCS administrators still would make final decisions on matters, though they would consult NDUS beforehand.
Neset is expected to brief the full board Thursday, May 30, on the audit and the committee’s discussion.
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The audit found that NDSCS vice president of workforce affairs Tony Grindberg, who's also a Fargo city commissioner, did not officially disclose that his wife worked for the Flint Group, which was hired to write a strategic plan for the career academy. The audit also found Grindberg was “closely and directly involved in the procurement of consulting services from Flint Group.”
Grindberg’s connection to the Flint Group was widely known, but paperwork was not filled out stating the conflict of interest. NDSCS President John Richman also said he made the final decision on hiring the firm.
The audit also alleged NDSCS failed to provide requested information to the state auditor’s office and misled the state auditor about Grindberg’s involvement. Though NDSCS contested claims it did not provide the information when asked, Neset said the audit details timelines of public records requests that state otherwise.
“I find that a very serious offense,” Neset said.
The audit also found that NDSCS spent state and local funds without authorization for the career academy. Though not acknowledged in the audit, the committee is aware of morale concerns at NDSCS that need to be addressed, Neset said.
Richman said changes to improve an institution are necessary to move a college forward, even when people don’t like those changes. The college will move forward, continue to listen to advice from the university system and make changes to improve its mission to provide a workforce for the region, he said.
“Sometimes you have to ask questions, and sometimes you have to hear things that you don’t necessarily want to hear but you need to hear,” he said.