Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Failing to lead

So it was quite a shock when I discovered that the university isn’t subject to just one audit per year. The State Universities Civil Service System (SUCSS) conducts a Biennial Institutional compliance Audit, the final report of which was issued August 16th, 2011. Imagine your humble narrator’s surprise to find that the university received 9 material findings. Taken in a vacuum, that number of findings is virtually meaningless, so I decided to inquire further, looking at the institution’s last SUCSS audit report, other state universities and other agencies under the audit supervision of the SUCSS. My non-scientific findings did lead me to some disturbing conclusions. 
First, the university is very consistent in its audit findings under the current administration. The most recent audit report from the State of Illinois Auditor General’s office showed a three fold increase in the number of audit findings (13 to 41) from FY 2009 to FY 2010. The SUCSS audit report shows a similar three fold increase in its audit findings, climbing from 3 in 2009 to 9 in 2011. Among the findings were, paying employees outside of the approved salary ranges, improperly maintaining the register and referring candidates and failing to follow regulatory guidelines in layoff transactions. These findings are all violations of the State Universities Civil Service Act.
Second, in the most recent audits of the state universities, only UIC received as many audit findings as CSU. This is surprising given that UIC has a budget of $1.95 billion, a total enrollment of 27,000 students, and nearly 11,000 Administrative, Professional and Support staff. The cost per budget dollar, per employee or per student is significantly less at UIC than at CSU. Illinois State University racked up 8 material findings, up 2 from its previous report. Western Illinois University and the University of Illinois Springfield tallied two material findings each while Eastern Illinois University only recorded one material finding.
Finally, I examined the audit reports for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the State University Retirement System and the State University Civil Service System. In each of their most recent reports, these three agencies received no material findings.
As these audit reports are conducted by different agencies I wondered how the university’s performance might be characterized based on these findings.  Is CSU three times worse off under the new regime than it was even under the previous interim president? If so, is the recent praise by members of the Board of Trustees for the performance of the president warranted? If, as is indicated in the presidential contract on page2 that there is an expectation of reducing audit findings as a measure of performance, a reasonable person could conclude that the president has failed in that regard. Of course, I would imagine hearing that it was the fault of the subordinates or the fault of the previous administration. Taking the latter argument first, how responsibility could be placed on a previous administration who on their watch had 13 and 3 audit findings turn into 41 and 9 findings on the current watch is quite an intellectual stretch. And taking the former assertion next, I would respond with the question of who placed those subordinates in positions of responsibility in the first place? 
Thus the buck stops with the university president. I still haven’t heard any admission of responsibility for the audit findings of either audit report. It isn’t reports that indicate failure. The lack of acknowledgment of responsibility is the leadership failure.

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