Friday, April 15, 2011

Audit report thoughts

So the earthquake of the state audit report hit and now the tsunami in the form of the press coverage has struck as well. Running every 30 minutes on CLTV, the university, now under new management, continues its tradition of honoring the rites of spring with its fascinating tales of financial and operational mismanagement. Continuing to regale the citizens of the State of Illinois with the reasons that the university didn’t properly account for appropriated funds or manage its Purchasing Cards appropriately, or why it maintained a negative balance in the Student Activities account or didn't manage university contracts in accordance with federal guidelines. And if these and similar tales of university behavior sound all too familiar then you would be experiencing deja vu all over again. What is new and not so new is the response of the university to the latest chapter of university mismanagement? Here are two. First, the university is told by its CEO that the institution asked the auditors to dissect the inner workings of the institution and lay its entrails out for all to examine. However, quoting from the recent Tribune article, ‘...Holland, however, said it was a routine audit and auditees "do not determine the scope of our audits."’ So this was a standard audit with the expected results? Why would the CEO try to publicly spin this as something out of the ordinary, knowing that statement could be easily refuted by the Auditor General? Second, in the political world that I have some experience in, whenever a public body or agency experiences a negative event like the audit report then it is imperative that the agency head contact all of the agency’s legislative and executive branch allies to inform them of the situation, strategize about responses and ensure that when the media does contact the legislators they are not blind sided by the reporter. Apparently that didn’t happen in this case. Again quoting from the Tribune article, “He (Senator Maloney, Chairman of the Higher Education Committee and CSU alumnus) was unaware of the audit until contacted by the Tribune.” This should never happen. Finally, if this was just a routine audit what would an incisive forensic audit yield? Is it possible this audit is emblematic of a dysfunction beyond the capacity of all but the most capable leader? The challenges facing this institution will not be solved by someone because they are local and “know everybody.”
Systems must be put in place and a culture developed to ensure those systems function as intended irrespective of turnover. Systems should always trump personnel. Sound systems in a functional culture will work to counter frequent changes in personnel as is common in administration.
I am curious how the next chapter of public coverage of CSU will unfold but sadly I believe this story will remain the same.

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