Editorial: DSU Foundation paying for mess it created

When rumors began to circulate about financial problems at the Dickinson State University Foundation, our reporting on the subject was unpopular with many university and foundation supporters.

We were asked by readers why we didn’t support the university and were told to stop picking on the foundation.

But, the more we reported, the more the foundation’s issues began to peel away and the quieter our critics became.

Now, we’re at the point where there seems to be little left to save.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem forced the foundation into financial receivership last November and Friday he called for its dissolution, based on the recommendation of court-appointed financial receiver Sean Smith and the inability of both Smith and accounting firm Brady, Martz & Associates to determine how much money the non-profit organization actually has available.

 The DSU Foundation is insolvent, according to the attorney general — meaning it owes more money than its existing assets.

 It’s an astounding statement to make about an organization whose primary goal, when first organized, was to be a fundraising support mechanism for DSU and its students. That goal, it seems, went by the wayside when the foundation shifted toward being involved in building projects such as the Badlands Activities Center, Hawks Point and Blue Hawk Square. Now, those three structures serve as monuments to the foundation’s bad decisions.

 Remember in October 2013 when Kevin Thompson, the former executive director of the DSU Foundation, proposed a $113 million “Badlands Event Center” be built on the outskirts of Dickinson with the help of the foundation? Decisions like that led the foundation to this point.

What’s worse is that Thompson and others in charge of making the decisions that led to this are no longer associated with the foundation.

 He resigned just over a month before the call to push the organization into financial receivership and, on top of that, staff turnover and the use of multiple accountants hamstrung the efforts of the receiver and Brady Martz to make sense of the foundation’s books, which are apparently so askew that dissolution is the only answer.

Now, Southwest District Judge William Herauf has to decide who is responsible for the foundation’s collapse.

How did it happen and how does DSU keep it from happening again?

Dickinson State University will have an alumni foundation in the future. Stenehjem and DSU interim President Jim Ozbun said they will help make sure of that.

When that day comes, we hope everyone remembers the bad decisions that led to that point. And, if nothing else, perhaps this era will be a great lesson for business students about how not to operate a non-profit organization.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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