Financial accounting lapse unacceptable

The email sent out by President Daniel Mark Fogel on Thursday to the University students, faculty and staff outlined problems that had arisen in regards to a consulting contract, which had ballooned to $5 million – equivalent to tuition for approximately 180 out-of-state students.This was more than a simple procedural slip-up, but, instead has raised many troubling questions about UVMs financial and accounting systems.How, exactly, was J. Michael Gower able to wield the sole authority to authorize such immense, and allegedly “mission critical” contracts?And how was it this long before anybody noticed?The University has been working with the Huron Consulting Group since 2006 and there are now nine separate contracts between the University and Huron. Yet, somehow work being done by the company not only slipped right past the president and board, but had remained unknown until now.We understand the importance of allowing people like Gower broad powers and great responsibility. It is important that administrators can be given tasks to complete without being hounded and micromanaged in order to accomplish those things.But, in an organization as large as this University, it is essential that there be thorough means of oversight so that we may prevent the problems of misallocation and corruption that plague many such large institutions – especially in the face of the many expensive projects, general financial insecurity and mounting debt incurred by universities.We cannot make a habit out of chalking up millions in expenditures to a lack of communication. If this becomes, or is found to have been an ongoing problem, serious reforms will be in order.The students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni need to feel safe about investing their money in this University and when problems like these arise it brings questions of dependability and trustworthiness into a harsh perspective.According to Fogel, the work being done by the Huron Group is “effective and productive work on a mission-critical project.” But Fogel and the board’s lack of knowledge of the proceedings in a ‘mission-critical’ project is a very unsettling realization and calls into question work being done by our administrators. What other failures and policy violations may lie below the surface?So, although we sincerely appreciate the strong commitment to accountability expressed by Fogel under these circumstances, we would like to see some form of full and independent investigation in order to feel confident about UVM’s financial systems.It will always be necessary for UVM to look to the resources of outside contractors, but if we are going to be able to make significant strides into the future, it is of the utmost importance that these failures do not happen again.