The state auditor expanding her review of Missouri’s colleges and universities, and it will include the University of Missouri, but it won’t go as deep into that institution as some state lawmakers want.
Auditor Nicole Galloway announced Thursday afternoon an audit of the affordability of all state-funded universities, and one of the administration of the University of Missouri System. She says the latter is only a top-level review, now the “deep dive” that some state legislators have called for.
“Starting at the highest level – at the top of the UM system administration, which is not within the four campuses within detail … but staying at the top at the university system administration level, which is the president and the curators, and looking at their spending policies and adherence with their own policies, procedures, and law.”
Galloway would not say specifically whether that would include looking at settlement agreements such as that with former system president Tim Wolfe, who said in an e-mail he and the Curators were stalled in trying to reach agreement on compensation for him. Wolfe resigned in November in response to protests accusing him and the University of inadequately responding to incidents of racism on campus.
“If those are decisions made at the president level and the administration level, those would be on the table for review,” said Galloway.
She said the audit of the University of Missouri System Administration was launched a few weeks ago, and would not attribute the decision to conduct it to anything specific.
“Of course we are aware of what’s been reported in the media, the current conversation that has been happening in the public, in the media – we’re not deaf to those. Just like in any audit that we do we take into consideration public conversations and input in these things,” said Galloway. “It is not an individual instance or one individual event. It’s a collection and a totality of looking at these things at a higher level.”
She did say the recent downgrade of the university system’s credit rating by credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s from stable to negative did get her attention.
“Coming from Columbia – previously from this I was treasurer of Boone County – I care a lot about debt ratings. Certainly when S & P had put out that they were having a negative outlook on ratings … whenever you see something like that it does raise levels of concern.”
Several state lawmakers have called for an audit of the University after last fall’s protests and changes in leadership. Among them, Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) has proposed annual audits of the University by the state auditor. That bill is awaiting a vote in a Senate committee.
Schmitt had called for a “deep dive” into the University’s finances, which this review would not be, but he calls it a, “good first step.”
“But we appropriate a half-a-billion dollars a year of taxpayer money to the university system, so I think that university system in its entirety – campuses, all the campuses and all the different departments – we need to have a full-scale review of what’s going on, what can be improved upon for us to move forward,” Schmitt told Missourinet. “I think that a lot of people have lost trust in the leadership at the University of Missouri.”
Representative Steve Cookson (R-Poplar Bluff) said it’s encouraging that the audit is happening.
“We’ll eagerly be awaiting her finding of facts but we’re also going to expect it to be extremely thorough,” said Cookson.
Galloway said she knows lawmakers are hoping for a broader audit of the University, but said her focus is on the “bigger picture.”
“Looking at the affordability of colleges and universities, how that money is spent. Certainly we make a strong investment in colleges and universities in this state with our private tuition dollars, with public dollars, and when we look at students making their own personal investment, families making an investment, of course they should be held accountable to those things, and we are starting by looking at the revenues that are coming in and then we’re starting at the very top looking at how those expenditures and policies are made. I think that this is the right direction to go right now,” said Galloway.
The university system’s interim president, Mike Middleton, issued this statement in response to the announcement of the audit:
“The University of Missouri System prides itself in being excellent stewards of the resources entrusted to us, including taxpayer, donor and tuition funds, which has been demonstrated by the $77 million saved by the UM System due to efficiencies and effectiveness measures in just the past two years alone. We are also committed to being completely transparent and open about our operations, and welcome the review announced today by Missouri’s State Auditor.”