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To those of us who’ve paid attention to the corruption happening at MnSCU universities, the question about whether the legislature, specifically the House and Senate higher ed committees, are doing their job is a troubling question.

I’ve forwarded both commitees information about specific instances where, at minimum, SCSU’s decisions are creating difficulties for the University today and in the future.

Specifically, President Potter fired Mahmoud Saffari for not putting together an enrollment retention program. That’s part of the documentation Dr. Saffari received from Provost Malhotra. Dr. Saffari’s termination happened in the fall of 2011. There are a multitude of reasons why that’s troubling, starting with the fact that SCSU enrollment is dropping off a cliff.

That’s bad enough but it doesn’t stop there. Since Dr. Saffari’s termination, the administration hasn’t put a plan together. I know they haven’t because they recently asked for help in putting a plan together.

Have either of the higher ed committees looked into this? Of course they haven’t. They’ve told me that “it’s a local issue.” Which it isn’t and they know it. That’s their way of saying that they aren’t interested in holding real oversight hearings.

Five years ago, St. Cloud State enrollments were increasing. SCSU was the flagship university within the MnSCU system. They aren’t anymore. In fact, Mankato has sailed past SCSU in FYE enrollment. (FYE enrollment is the number that matters because that’s the enrollment that determines tuition revenue.)

That’s before talking about President Potter signing a contract with the J.A. Wedum Foundation that virtually guarantees their apartment complex a profit for the next 20 years. The first two years that the apartments existed, SCSU had to send the Foundation all of the rent they collected from students plus checks totalling $2,250,000. The figures haven’t been released for the third year but reports have it that the University is hoping they only lost $950,000 this time.

Again, have either higher ed committee looked into this? Nope. A university with shrinking enrollment and losing money on its other ‘investments’ isn’t enough to get the commitees’ attention. Apparently, they think that it isn’t a big deal because it isn’t their money.

Let’s be clear about some things. First, the blame rightly belongs to the committee chairs. They’re the only people with the authority to gavel an oversight hearing into existence. Committee members can’t ask questions until the meeting starts. Second, the time for status quo committee hearings has passed. Lots of things are happening that need addressing. Financial mismanagement at St. Cloud State is running rampant. Third, if higher ed committees don’t take their oversight responsibilities seriously, it sends the signal that universities can pretty much do whatever they want with impunity.

The committee chairs carry the big stick. They can get the universities’ attention if they’re intent on being the taxpayers’ watchdog. When they aren’t willing to be the taxpayers’ watchdog, then they’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Finally, legislators in positions of power are in a position of vulnerability because taxpayers take it seriously when they turn a blind eye towards corruption and financial mismanagement. Legislators should know that, while taxpayers don’t care about every penny of wasteful spending, they care if legislators ignore a ton of corruption mixed with financial mismanagement.

Committee chairs aren’t irreplaceable, especially when they ignore their essential responsibilities.

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