Who knows what the upcoming audits of Kansas University, Wichita State and the other state universities will unearth? Hopefully, nothing comparable to the embarrassing findings from the recent audit of Kansas State University and a number of its related bodies such as the school’s endowment program, alumni association, athletic programs and other research-related entities.
Millions of dollars were spent at KSU to pay off a fired football coach, a past athletics director and a retired football coach who had been rehired as head coach. Along with these situations, there were questionable expenditures and poor documentation of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because of these surprises, the Kansas Board of Regents decided it would be a good idea to order similar audits of all six regents universities.
One of the interesting facets of the audit process is who is expected to pay for the thorough and costly examinations. It is understood the KSU endowment association paid for that school’s audit, and some in Topeka are suggesting endowment associations would pick up the bill for audits at each of the other universities.
When word of the KSU audit leaked out, the Manhattan Mercury newspaper sought to learn details of the report. They were brushed aside by endowment officials who said the endowment program was a private, non-state entity. However, when the audit findings were handed over to university officials, the request from the Mercury had to be honored.
This presents an interesting question. Is it proper for an endowment association to pay for an audit of the university it serves? Is it proper for endowment officers to receive the findings of the audit before it is released to the public when it is possible the endowment association itself may have engaged in questionable financial actions? For example, was money in the KSU endowment program used in an inappropriate manner?
The audits, if they are done as thoroughly as the regents wish, could reveal some interesting information, particularly if they force various athletics departments around the state to open their books far more than they have been willing to do in the past.
This would be especially interesting at KU in light of the controversial manner in which “points” are awarded to donors based on how much money they give to the athletics department’s Williams Educational Fund. Points supposedly are used to determine priority seating for KU basketball and football games, along with other privileges at conference and NCAA events.
Many KU alumni question whether every individual in a specific seating section has made the same minimum cash contribution, or more, to earn the right to sit in that section. This is in addition to the price of the tickets.
An honest public accounting or acknowledgment of the contribution/seating puzzle would help clear the air. Also, what is the fiscal debt of the athletics department, and who has loaned the money? The current situation does not generate trust and confidence in what athletic department officials say about their seating policies. It also has affected private giving for other university needs.
Maybe the mess in Manhattan and KSU, as embarrassing and unfortunate as it is, will lead to a far more open accounting of the financial goings-on at all regents universities. It also could provide far more sunlight into the cloudy, murky environment of university athletics departments that raise and spend millions upon millions of dollars while the academic sides of these institutions are being asked to absorb more and more cuts in their budgets.
The public, state legislators, students, taxpayers, faculty members, parents of students and ticketholders to the schools’ athletics events all would appreciate knowing everything is on the up and up. That’s the way it should be if the public is expected to be enthusiastic in their support of the schools and all their operations. This is particularly true, and timely, at KU where officials are engaged in early planning for a large capital campaign.
Unfortunately, these days, there is far too much mistrust. KU’s incoming chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little, deserves a clean, open slate of all university-related operations as she begins her leadership of the university.