The recent comprehensive reviews of University of Minnesota athletics provide a clear road map for strengthening accountability and transparency. Minnesotans can have confidence not just that action on the recommendations will be taken but that the university is already making needed changes.
While it is reassuring that an external review concluded that there is not a culture that allows or perpetuates sexual harassment in the athletics department, we will not tolerate harassment of any kind. We must continue to be diligent to recognize and immediately address harassment when it occurs.
And where the audit found unallowable or imprudent expenditures, we make no excuses for the areas in which we failed. Nothing short of superior stewardship of our resources and compliance with all financial policies will be tolerated. The people of Minnesota rightly have high expectations of all of us charged with operating this great institution. Some actions uncovered in these reports did not meet the standards that Minnesotans set for us and that we demand of ourselves.
We are accountable to the people of Minnesota for stewarding and enhancing the state’s public land-grant university. In just four years, we have reallocated administrative costs totaling nearly $60 million and have committed to $30 million more. We have held tuition for Minnesota resident students to well below the rate of inflation. Currently, about 40 percent of students graduate from our Twin Cities campus with no debt.
We have taken aggressive actions to achieve these goals and will continue to do so. In fact, the external review and audit are a result of decisive actions initiated last summer following the resignation of former athletic director Norwood Teague. Among the actions we — the Board of Regents and president — took in the wake of Mr. Teague’s resignation include:
• Retaining Karen G. Schanfield and Joseph T. Dixon of the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron and giving them full access to determine whether there was a culture within the athletics department that in any way tolerated sexual harassment. The external review also was charged with recommending improvements that could be made to high-profile personnel searches, including the recruitment of the next athletic director.
• Expediting an audit of intercollegiate athletics so its conclusions and recommendations would coincide with the external review.
• Appointing Beth Goetz as interim athletic director and charging her with implementing a stronger culture of financial oversight and stewardship, as well as more stringent financial controls. She already has taken action to assure compliance with university policies on spending, particularly expenditures for entertainment, and the overall culture of the department is improving under her leadership.
Particularly troubling was the audit finding that some senior leaders within the department were reimbursed for entertainment and expenses that should not have been allowed. Minnesotans should know that all current employees who were inappropriately reimbursed or received overpayments have repaid the departments and that we are seeking repayment from former employees.
Goetz has already implemented five of the audit’s 11 recommendations, and the others will follow. A new oversight committee, led by the university’s CFO, will actively review athletics finances to ensure that controls are in place and that compliance is rigorous and absolute.
And, while the external review found overall that “the athletics department reflects the respect toward women that Minnesotans expect from this flagship educational institution,” it made recommendations to strengthen processes, training and policies regarding sexual harassment. These recommendations will be addressed.
We hope the actions we have taken — and those we will continue to make — will restore any public trust that has been lost.
Most of all, we hope that the scrutiny rightly given to these issues won’t detract from the public’s understanding that the University of Minnesota is stronger today than in the past. Students are graduating in four years at record rates; faculty members continue to earn national honors, and the university’s impact on some of Minnesota’s most-pressing issues — including the achievement gap, environmental quality, food safety and health care — makes it one of the nation’s Top 10 public research universities.
These achievements do not excuse where we have come up short. Rather, they challenge us to achieve the same level of excellence in all areas. That is what Minnesotans expect of their university, and it is the goal to which we are committed.
Dean Johnson is chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Eric Kaler is the university’s president.