The board of directors of the University of Wyoming swept as much as $ 140 million that was under the control of several departments and units across the campus in its own series of accounts last year, a measure that frustrated the faculty, prompted that the president of the board apologized and eventually led the Legislature to remove $ 15 million from a request for school funds.
"It annoyed us," said the president-elect of the Senate of the Faculty, Donal O'Toole, who teaches in the Department of Veterinary Sciences. "If you want a technical response, it ruined us, really bad."
O'Toole's department lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the sweep, which some professors called "scraping." Associated students at the University of Wyoming – the school's student government – lost $ 628,000, said former president Ben Wetzel. The scraping or sweeping was felt throughout the campus: UW President Laurie Nichols told the board in June that the money was spread over up to 1,000 different accounts.
For the student government, the money – student fees that helped fund recycling and student media programs – was kept in reserve accounts. O'Toole said that the funds her department lost were used to help administer the state diagnostic lab and to send teachers to conferences.
Throughout the campus, this money was decentralized and under the control of various departments, units and deans. In some cases, as with the student government, the money was effectively in a savings account. Elsewhere, it came from federal grants, student fees, tuition fees, a wide range of sources that were beyond the control of the school board.
Almost a year later, several officials were not sure how much money was swept UW spokesman Chad Baldwin said the total was "in the stadium" of $ 140 million. O'Toole said it was more than $ 120 million. Dave True, a board member who will assume the position of president, said those figures "are correct." State Senator Bruce Burns said he understood that the total was $ 138.8 million.
"The motivation for I would have a better opportunity to manage the general financial resources of the university," he said on Thursday. "If you have 700 to 800 scattered individual accounts with multiple signature authorizations, it is a real challenge to prudently manage all of those different financial resources."
"It was not to remove those resources from the appropriate spending authority," he continued. , "but it was a prudent step to better exercise our fiduciary responsibility for the administration of the general financial resources of the university."
In June and July, the board moved to consolidate all these accounts into seven reserve accounts that the trustees would control These new funds are for the general advisor of the university ($ 5 million), a reserve account for passenger aircraft ($ 1 million) and reserve for special projects ( $ 37.7 million), among other purposes.
The move was made despite the reservations of several groups and officials, including the president of the UW, Laurie Nichols, throughout the campus, show the minutes of the meetings. Later, Wetzel wrote a letter "respectfully demanding (ing)" that the lost money of the student government be earmarked for the organization.
"(Nichols) again emphasized the need for action and stated that simply sweeping funds without a policy was not a way in which the University should be operated," according to the minutes of the June meeting.
Those minutes document managers' attempts to sound the alarm about the dangers of raising money: Provost Kate Miller, who likes Nichols is relatively new to UW, told the board that "she spent a year building confidence and creating transparency on campus, ensuring that the money is not dragged or withdrawn because there was a process that everyone knew about. "
The department and officials throughout the campus" had plans for that money, "Miller told the together, "but now he would leave, which would create a very difficult situation for the Provost and the administration when working with those people."
In any case, the board made the move anyway. The then chairman of the board John MacPherson told Nichols and Miller that the board had an obligation to address the accounts and that if the administrators had a better way to handle it, it was all ears. Spokesman Chad Baldwin told the Star-Tribune that the board wanted to pool all funds into centralized accounts that the trustees could control and control.
O'Toole said he suspected the move had more to do with the recent university report. financial problems. The Legislature cut more than $ 41 million from the university in the wake of the 2015 economic slowdown.
The board "had no idea what they were doing," O'Toole said. "Nobody really asked the question, 'Does this money work? Is this money doing things?' Yes, this is money we need to survive as departments."
It quickly became apparent that collecting this money was a mistake, Baldwin said. Some money, like federal grants, had conditions. Others were reserved for specific purposes.
At the July meeting, Trustee Dave Bostrom apologized.
"He stated that the trustees had thought they had asked the right questions, but noted that their action had created consternation throughout the campus," according to the minutes of that meeting. The trustees, Bostrom said, did not ask the right questions and did not understand the needs of the schools, nor did they understand the sources of the funds.
"When I do something, like doing a deep dive on a cliff, I would like to know what the possible consequences are," O'Toole said. "… It would be good for them to know that if they make a mistake, the error can be potentially serious … What we would really like to see is the little word:" I'm sorry. "But we're not going to do it."
The board began allocating dollars for the units and departments that lost chunks of money. Said Baldwin. But O'Toole said the faculty was "assuming the worst" and that they would get "cents from the dollar" compared to what they had previously.
The council's decision may have had implications beyond altering the campus. O'Toole suggested that lawmakers raised funds for the university's Science Initiative because of the situation. Initially, legislators had committed to provide $ 100 million for the project. But the Senate reduced that. Burns said the sweep played a role in that decision.
He told the Star-Tribune last week that he did not think the centralization of money was a bad thing. But he said the Legislature did not know the university had almost $ 140 million in reserve accounts.
Eventually, lawmakers agreed to pay $ 85 million in the Science Initiative, and the university was entrusted with making the other $ 15 million. At one point, Burns said some senators wanted to grant UW less than $ 70 million.
True declined to speculate on the reasons for the Legislature, but said the board was informed that lawmakers had discussed the sweeping of the funds.
University officials have said that UW will use reserve funds to pay its $ 15 million stake in the Science Initiative. Baldwin said some of that money may come from swept accounts.
Multiple faculty members, who refused to speak at the registry for fear of reprisals, said they had no idea where the money went. O'Toole said that some units and departments did not realize they had lost money, or how much, until months later.
"The money disappeared," O'Toole said. "It just vaporized."
It is true, who stressed that he spoke only for himself and not for the entire board, acknowledged that there were "certainly things" that the council could have done differently.
"Certainly, one of the things that could have been handled better is a greater effort to identify funds that should not move," he said. "There were some reversals and reimbursements of some of the accounts that have been identified that really need to stay where they were."