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NDUS auditor says Shirvani did not commit fraud

BISMARCK -- The internal auditor for the North Dakota University System said Chancellor Hamid Shirvani did not violate any policies or commit fraud in testimony before a House committee, but adds that Shirvani's presentation could have been construed as misleading.

A University System staff member accused Shirvani of trying to make the graduation and retention rates at the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University look bad by using inappropriate comparison schools as he provided an update March 18 to the House Appropriations Committee.

The accuser, Linda Baeza Porter, interim system office liaison officer for reporting and information, also reported the issue to the University System's fraud hotline. The information was handed over to Bill Eggert, the University System's director of internal audit and risk assessment, for further review.

After reviewing all relevant information and verifying it with University System officials, Eggert said no violations occurred, but "there are no solid NDUS guidelines, policies, procedures and protocols that will ensure consistency across all NDUS reporting," he said in a report.

"It can be conclusively stated that without a full disclosure or an explanation of the data ... this presentation would be reasonably construed as misleading and thus in violation of state board policies," the report said.

Porter said Thursday she was pleased with Eggert's report.

"It's nice to see someone else saw what I saw and had the same type of concerns," she said. "What he said melded well with what I had. It's nice to have it confirmed."

She said Shirvani has a right to do with the data what he pleases but noted her position requires her to make sure information is "good and solid and the people I work for can stand by what they are going to take to the Legislature."

Shirvani could not be reached for comment Thursday. Shirvani previously defended comparing the North Dakota colleges to larger institutions such as the University of Minnesota, saying those are the kind of schools UND and NDSU should aspire to emulate.

Meanwhile, the University System has developed an internal workgroup to ensure data from each campus and the University System are consistent.

The group was created just before the fraud claim took hold and is still finalizing its policies and proper protocol, which Eggert said may have led to the confusion over the data.

Eggert recommends in his report that the system adopt protocols that ensure all data used in public presentations come from one consistent source that is easily explainable.

He also urges the development of an independent team to ensure accountability in data reporting.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.