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Other View: Yes, get 'to the bottom' of Mayville State University issues

These recent headlines could potentially hinder future growth and jeopardize a university that was a statewide success story after a series of enrollment surges.

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It’s been an eventful year at Mayville State, a small North Dakota university that’s been the focus of unfavorable news stories over the past year.

Among them:

In June, State Board of Higher Education member Kathleen Neset – who has since left the board – addressed what she called an “ongoing complaint” against MSU President Brian Van Horn.

Neset did not reveal the nature of the complaint, nor did she provide further information about precisely when or how the complaint was registered. But she did say the complaint has been coming “over several years now.” And while she said her goal is to “support our president,” she also reminded Van Horn of his responsibilities, encouraging him and other university presidents to “always maintain the highest level of professionalism.”

In July, Van Horn was the focus of a university system investigation after it was alleged he made some employees “so uncomfortable they ultimately resigned their positions.” The report was inconclusive, since the tips were anonymous.

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In November, Mayville State informed 15 employees that they had been overpaid and that they must return the money. A handful of the overpayments were for at least $10,000, while another reached $37,500.

And the latest: North Dakota Auditor Josh Gallion earlier this month said that state auditors plan to investigate and “get to the bottom” of bookkeeping errors at Mayville State that include the overpayment issue, as well as the findings of a 2020 audit that determined there were “major financial errors” and an apparent lax approach to some accounting practices.

Yes, please, Auditor Gallion: Get to the bottom of this. It’s important that these issues are fixed and remedied, since we believe the state needs small universities like the one at Mayville. These recent headlines could potentially hinder future growth and jeopardize a university that was a statewide success story after a series of enrollment surges.

We don’t claim the series of anonymous complaints are related to the accounting errors, but the entirety of the situation does not paint a flattering portrait of Mayville State. A dive into the books won’t fix what some have declared is a difficult work environment at MSU, but it will help the university put a difficult situation behind it and, we hope, steer it toward a more productive and trustworthy path.

Van Horn has said the accounting mistakes stem from staff turnover and reorganization. We believe it – what else could it be? – but for the sake of regaining consumer confidence, the issue needs a thorough look from an outside perspective.

The university must welcome this scrutiny from Gallion and even from the media, for regaining complete trust can only come via openness, transparency and acknowledgement of obvious shortcomings.

Meanwhile, as painful as it is for the employees who must refund the dollars they were overpaid, it is a demand that Van Horn says is a legal requirement. Frankly, employees everywhere must assume some responsibility to monitor their regular pay stubs. Allowing any sort of consolation with taxpayer dollars – other than a gracious payback period – would be wrong and would set a terrible precedent.

This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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