It’s hard to pinpoint the most disheartening part of the UM System audit that was released in March.
It might have been the $1.2 million doled out in incentive payments to top administrators over several years. Maybe it was the approximately $407,000 spent in “excessive” vehicle allowances. Perhaps it was the fact that a former chancellor who resigned amid multiple scandals was still given a salary thousands of dollars above what he should have reasonably made in his post-resignation administrative role.
All of these numbers alone would have been upsetting, but the timing of the report’s release may have been the last straw that made the audit such a big blow to students and staff. MU’s financial woes had been a prevalent part of the news cycle all year, but after higher education took the brunt of the state budget cuts and an already low enrollment projection kept getting lower, finding out that an extra $2.3 million went to the administrators at the top was the icing on the cake.
Even then, it wasn’t just the timing or the numbers, but the way the money was given out. The audit found no standardized system for giving administrators bonus payments. The goals to meet were basic job requirements, the process for deciding exactly how much each administrator earned was ambiguous at best, and none of the bonuses were documented in public compensation information. And on top of lacking both consistency and transparency, the auditor found the whole thing in potential violation of the state constitution.
And that was just the $1.2 million in incentive bonuses. The rest of the $2.3 million included, among other things, vehicle payments that were up to three times higher than what administrators realistically needed reimbursed and former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s $100,000 retention payment — which he kept despite, you know, not retaining his position.
The system has made some strides to make things right, with UM System President Mun Choi bringing the incentive payments to an end after the audit was released. But if this is how system administrators handle their own finances, we’re not sure how they’re going to move forward and handle running a university — much less four — in a state of financial crisis.