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Board passes plan to improve management of Wahpeton college

June 27, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The North Dakota Board of Higher Education on Thursday struck a deal meant to improve some of the management functions at the North Dakota State College of Science, following a blistering audit review of the Wahpeton school.

The board’s audit committee had recommended “temporary system oversight” by the university system chancellor after the review accused the school of a conflict of interest regarding the hiring of a consultant for a career education center. The audit also criticized the school for failing to cooperate in the investigation, among other things.

NDSCS President John Richman said during the board meeting in Bismarck that the special oversight was unnecessary because the school is implementing its own plan that addresses the report. He told the board that if it approved the audit committee’s plan, his contract renewal should be postponed and he should not get a raise until any oversight is scrapped.

“The media and possibly some of you may think I’m doing a grandstand. I am not,” Richman said. “If this were to happen to one of our employees on our campus, we would hold them accountable.”

The board split votes over the proposals, with Nick Hacker, Don Morton, Dan Traynor and Ashley Thornton choosing the school’s strategy and Kathleen Neset, Jill Louters, Casey Ryan and Tim Mihalek backing the idea endorsed by the audit committee. After taking a 15-minute break, the board approved a motion endorsing the school’s blueprint while giving Chancellor Mark Hagerott the authority to monitor its progress and make changes,

Kathleen Neset, audit committee chairwoman, had said Richman’s proposal does not go far enough and the system oversight “adds another layer, another level of accountability that has to be done due to the significance of the severity and the iimportant of these infractions.” Board Member Nick Hacker said the NDSCS memorandum does a better job of addressing the audit than the oversight proposal.

The audit focused on management of the school’s career workforce program. It found that Tony Grindberg, the school’s vice president of workforce affairs, failed to fill out a form disclosing that his wife worked for a Fargo company selected to formulate a marketing plan for the program. Richman countered that Grindberg’s connection to Flint Communications was widely known and he was not involved in the decision to hire the firm.

Richman thanked the board for the compromise, which requires Hagerott to report back on implementation and compliance when the board meets in September.

“I want to reassure the board that as challenging as these conversations have been, we have learned, we’ve already taken steps to improve and we will continue to do so to ensure that NDSCS remains the national leader that it is in workforce training development,” Richman said.

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