During my early childhood years while growing up in Mississippi, I was told often by a hateful cousin that the boogie man was going to get me. He told tall tales that haunted and damaged my young psyche. His depictions of the boogie man seemed real to my impressionable imagination. I would awaken in the middle of the night shaking and believing the boogie man was in the closet or under the bed. As a way of comforting me back to sleep, my grandparents would throw open the closet doors or peer under the bed to show me no one was going to harm me. My grandmother would say to me as she was going through the room, “Van love calling you a scary cat; don’t let him whisper things to you that are not true.” After seeing no one in my room and hearing my grandparents soothing voices, I would return back to my bed realizing that I was safe. My grandparents reassured me that everything would be alright by their actions; they physically showed me that no boogie man was lurking to get me and told me the truth about my cousin words each time I had a bad dream.
Over the last two weeks, I had to similarly reassure my sons who are attending Tennessee State University that the media hype from Broadway with doomsday headlines that are misleading was nothing but the boogie man myth stalking TSU with an incomplete narrative. My eldest son returned from spring break wondering if TSU was going to lose its accreditation. Bewildered, I asked “Who’s telling those tall tales?” He said students were receiving calls from their parents from around the country asking if TSU is on the oust. My son who works with freshmen student athletes was reassuring them that everything would be okay. But he was also seeking comfort by confiding in me. Wanting to put his mind at ease, I told him I would check into the root of the students’ fears. Like days of old, I needed to show my son that there was no boogie man at TSU. Or was it? Concerned, I made a call to a friend who worked at TSU the next day.
My friend gave me an insider’s view of trying to do one’s best for students while watching the university she loves and worked for be attacked from the inside out. “TSU is having a whisper campaign being waged against it with the media carrying the whispers in the wind. Brazen headlines with false claims are causing dread in the minds of students and faculty alike,” she said in hush tones. She spoke as if we could be overheard when it was only the two of us on the phone. I found myself reassuring her that everything would be okay and the truth always prevails. Like Mother, like son. After I hung up with her, I said a prayer for my sons and the TSU community. I found myself recalling last summer’s misleading headline about TSU and wondered why does TSU receives so much negative press from one media outlet that provokes panic, alarm, and trepidation in the Nashville community about the standards of TSU. I pondered quietly about what does TSU need to do to show the good practices while correcting the bad habits without being written as a monster in the headlines? Why has the media not mentioned the awards that TSU has won for outstanding community service in the last several weeks? My mind was on my sons’ future as well. A few days later, I received a second call about TSU from my youngest son who was concerned about his status at the school.
My youngest son, known as “Cool Corn”, was showing signs of distress about his future at TSU. He asked me in a voice that reminded me he had only fifty percent of my DNA, “Ma, what’s up with the money at TSU, I heard something ‘bout TSU’s money”. What now, I thought to myself. He went on to tell me about TSU’s audit that made the news. My sons were worried. I was determined to keep them focused on their education and not on headlines and campus gossip. The insinuations made about the school they love dearly were spreading like wild fire. I would learn later, TSU’s boogie man was real but disguised as bias journalism.
Jaime Sarrio, a contributing writer for The Tennessean, covers education in Middle Tennessee was the writer of two articles that appeared in The Tennessean a week apart. The article that my younger son was discussing with me was titled “Audit finds errors at TSU”. Ms. Sarrio wrote about the “numerous inaccuracies related to scholarships, investments and retirement funds at Tennessee State University.” The article cited figures and recommendations on how TSU needs to do better with its accounting practices. As I continued to read I could not help but notice the statement towards the end of the story;
“TSU isn't the only state institution to record errors on financial statements. East Tennessee State, Austin Peay, Dyersburg State Community College and Motlow Community College were cited for similar mistakes in recent month,” Jewell said.
TSU was mentioned along with several other schools but figures only from TSU were given. In Ms. Sarrio’s bio, it states that she covers education for Middle Tennessee but only mentioned the audit of one school that was in Middle Tennessee. Clarksville and Smyrna are in Middle Tennessee, right? Interesting.
After I picked up copies of the audits for the schools that were listed in the story and audits for school not written about, I wondered what were the “similar” mistakes mentioned briefly, but not expounded upon by Ms. Sarrio. Since I try to be a fair and balance blogger, I decided to include the overviews from each school in alphabetically order. I would hate for anyone to think that I pulled one school out the hat that only had one school in the hat. When I was in grade school, I learned that the letter A came before T. Most of the schools audits were 70 plus pages long and to remain fair I will give the samplings of information from the findings and recommendation pages of the audits for each school. All Links to the complete audits pages are available at the end of the page.
In each school’s audit the objectives were the same:
1. To consider the university’s internal control over financial reporting to determine auditing procedures for the purpose of expressing opinions on the financial
2. To determine compliance with certain provisions of laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements;
3. To determine the fairness of the presentation of the financial statements; and
4. To recommend appropriate actions to correct any deficiencies.
The audits were conducted as a part of the checks and balances of being a public institution in the state of Tennessee, not as a witch hunt. All public universities and colleges are audited, not just TSU.
APSU audit was 72 pages long. It did not take but a few turn of the pages to concur with Ms. Sarrio’s findings that some of the other schools had similar problems. I noticed right away that APSU like TSU had “made mistakes two years in row” as well. Now let’s take a peek into the horrors of higher education accounting, hold your chest because this will be a spooky, scary, frightful read from here!
The Office of University Advancement personnel did not establish policies and procedures for monitoring pledges receivable and did not comply with established policies and procedures related to receipting, recording,and documenting contributions and pledges received from donors. The Office of University Advancement receives contributions and pledges for both the university and the foundation. While obtaining an understanding of controls over cash receipting and pledges receivable in the Office of University Advancement and while completing agreed-upon procedures on the Athletics Department’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Statement of Revenues and Expenses, we noted that
•staff recorded Athletics Department revenue amounts in the wrong account;
•management failed to establish policies or procedures to monitor pledges receivable to determine which amounts should be written off, and staff failed to follow established policies for maintaining pledges receivable documentation; and
•the Executive Director of the foundation failed to ensure adequate controls over cash receipting and recording functions.
We noted similar problems when performing our agreed upon procedures for the year ended June 30, 2008.
Dyersburg State Community College
1. The Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services did not ensure that the college’s and foundation’s financial statements and notes to the financial statements were accurately prepared, which increased the risk that amounts could have been materially misstated and that critical financial decisions could have been made based on inaccurate information.
Top management of Dyersburg State Community College (DSCC) is responsible for the fair presentation of financial position in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. However, the Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services did not ensure that the college’s and foundation’s financial statements and the accompanying notes to the financial statements were free of material misstatement. According to the Vice President, she prepared the financial statements, notes to the financial statements, and the management’s discussion and analysis (MD&A); however, no other knowledgeable person reviewed the financial statements, notes, and the MD&A for accuracy or cohesiveness. As a result, we noted several reporting errors in the financial statements, notes, and MD&A.The new staff was unfamiliar with the previous and new systems and did not have sufficient experience to extract information to prepare the financial report, and there was not adequate time permitted to provide the specific training. In Aug 2008, the Business Manager accepted another position at the college and a new Business Manager was hired.The Vice President was, as in 2007, the only staff remaining with prior experience in preparing the financial report. Also, the Vice President was on leave intermittently due to a family illness and was unable to have sufficient time to review the notes and management’s discussion and analysis as it should have been before the deadline for submission to the Tennessee Board of Regents.
The university needs improved review procedures to prevent errors in the preparation of the university’s financial statements. The Vice President for Finance and Administration and the Associate Vice President for Financial Services worked together in preparing and reviewing East Tennessee State University’s financial statements and related notes to the financial statements. They also relied on information provided by other employees. Our audit found that this arrangement lacked adequate review procedures to ensure the accuracy of the information presented in financial statements and notes. This weakness resulted in three significant reporting errors:
• In note 8 of the financial statements, the Associate Vice President for Financial
Services reported the reserve amount for Tennessee State School Bond Authority (TSSBA)bonds as $21,941.24. The correct amount, according to a TSSBA confirmation, was $4,093,706.22. No review of this information was performed by another employee.
The note was corrected in the audited statements. The audited statement was not corrected. The entry was deemed immaterial by the university’s Vice President for Finance and Administration. These reporting errors resulted in significant misstatements in the financial statements. According to the Associate Vice President
for Financial Services, these errors were not detected because she did not have sufficient review time between year-end closing and the final preparation and submission of the financial report to the Tennessee Board of Regents Central Office. The Vice President for Finance and Administration also cited the lack of sufficient resources to provide adequate review due to staff reductions from the university’s recent voluntary buyout plan. With an adequate review process, the Vice President or Associate Vice President could have detected and corrected these errors before the financial report was completed.
Motlow State Community College
The Vice President for Business Affairs and the Director of Fiscal Services made several classification errors in Motlow College Foundation’s financial statements, resulting in inaccurate financial reporting. The Vice President for Business Affairs and the Director of Fiscal Services of Motlow State Community College did not ensure the financial statements and notes of the college’s component unit foundation were accurately prepared for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2008, and June 30, 2007. We found that management made several classification errors due to oversights during the preparation process. Based on our audit, we found that the Vice President for Business Affairs and the Director of Fiscal Services, who worked together in preparing Motlow College Foundation’s financial statements as presented in the college’s Annual Financial Reports, made the following classification errors:
• On the college’s statement of net assets at June 30, 2008, in the component unit column, they failed to separately report $383,551.65 of nonexpendable net assets restricted for scholarships. The amount was shown in the nonexpendable restricted net assets - other category. Inadequate review procedures led to the misclassification.
• In note 14 in the college’s 2007 financial report, they misclassified $3,262,305.47 of foundation equity mutual funds and $41,496.63 of money market mutual funds as bond mutual funds. According to the Director of Fiscal Services,the amount was simply placed in the wrong category in the note, but the statement of net assets reflected investments properly.
University of Tennessee
1. Advancement Services and Athletic Department personnel failed to address risks associated with improper accounting for pledges receivable, resulting in a $6.4 million over statement of pledges receivable on the university’s June 30, 2008 financial statements.
The University of Tennessee uses two separate systems to process and account for donor pledges made to the university. Personnel in the Advancement Services office use the Alumni and Development Information System (ANDI) to maintain the official record of all gifts and pledges made to the university. Personnel in Athletic Development at Knoxville use the ADvantage system to account for gifts and pledges made to the UT Knoxville Athletic Department. Pledges and gifts are initially entered into the ADvantage system and then are subsequently entered into the ANDI system through a multi-step data transfer process. University personnel failed to appropriately respond to data integrity issues discovered within the ANDI system, failed to establish a pledges receivable write-off policy, and failed to mitigate other internal control weaknesses involving the pledges receivable process. The Assistant Vice President for Advancement Services and his staff are responsible for reporting accurate gift and pledges receivable balances at each June 30 year-end to the Controller for proper financial statement reporting. However, the Assistant Vice President did not provide accurate pledges receivable balances at June 30, 2008, to the Controller because of uncorrected data integrity issues on the ANDI accounting system and because of the staff’s failure to establish an Advancement Services policy for the write-off of delinquent, uncollected pledges, ultimately affecting the June 30 balances. Also, based on our audit work, we identified certain other internal control weaknesses. The specific discrepancies are described as follows:
Delinquent Pledges We determined that, based on research done by Advancement Services’ staff, delinquent pledges (no payments for one year or more) totaled approximately $7,944,600 and were included on the university’s June 30, 2008, statement of net assets net of a 20 percent allowance for doubtful accounts and discounted to net present value. These pledges were deemed uncollectible and were scheduled for write-off on January 1, 2009. Since the entire amount was deemed uncollectible, the allowance account established for doubtful accounts was not sufficient to cover all uncollectible pledges. At June 30, 2008, net pledges receivable were overstated on the university’s statement of net assets by at least $5,936,319.84.
I read hundreds of pages of state audit reports for several universities and colleges in Tennessee. Many had numerous accounting errors and discrepancies.I am not trying to down play TSU’s audit or negate TSU's issues by any means but when I read the other schools’ reports, I realized that folks in Tennessee just can’t count. When I contacted Tennessee Comptroller of Treasury Director of Communications, Blake Fontenay, to find out why only TSU’s audit was discussed in the article, I was informed “There was a media inquiry specifically about TSU’s audit.” The reporter did not inquire about the other schools? Hmmm. “We told her that other schools had problems as well,” stated Mr. Fontenay. Perplexed, I asked about the release date of the audits? I was told where to find the release dates for all the schools. I was startled to read that Motlow State University was released 10/27/2009, Dyersburg State Community College was released 2/8/2010, APSU was released 2/8/2010, ETSU was released 3/11/2010, and TSU was released 3/17/2010.The reporter who covers education in Middle Tennessee had not written any prior stories about the audits of the other schools. Why focus only on TSU? I searched the Leaf Chronicles website, which has the same parent company as the Tennessean, and found no stories on APSU’s audit, a Middle Tennessee School. ETSU did make the news in East Tennessee and the story was cross posted on several websites. ETSU story ran before the Tennessean reported on TSU. News Channel 5 mentioned some of the issues at ETSU:
Among the errors the audit found - the associate vice president for financial services reported the reserve amount for Tennessee State School Bond Authority bonds as $22,000 when the correct amount was more than $4 million. Also scholarship allowances were understated by more than $2 million, which resulted in other accounting errors.
The information about ETSU’s audit was in the news but not included in the reporter’s story about TSU’s audit. As we can see, Broadway’s narrative about TSU is as dramatic sounding as the “War on Terror”. The terminology is catchy but the theory lacks sustainable measures. Reporting specific inaccuracies at one school but
not other schools you cover whose audits were released earlier has a ghoulish distortion that does not sit well with this parent. This added to the discord that my eldest son said was evoked in students the previous week when a headline by the same reporter read “TSU Runs Risk of losing its Accreditation.” My manicured mommy nails are becoming claws while I am trying to help my sons understand the politics of public mind games without poisoning them about life.
An implication from the headline was that TSU was on the short list for the accreditation guillotine. That story was read by many students before the beginning of TSU’s spring break. No wonder the students returned back to school afraid of the unknown. Can you imagine the conversations about TSU with families who were trying to sort reality from make believe? God forbid if families went to the media’s website and read the comment section that seems to bring out a type of hate that is becoming more and more mainstream and is encouraged by the headlines that are written. What about the new enrollees for the fall semester? How many read or heard about the headlines and decided this may not be the school for them in 2010-2011? Who would want to send their child to a pending non-accredited school? My eldest son bristled at the notion that students were not properly tested throughout his time at TSU. “Mom, I was number one in my graduating class and rarely slept for four years because of all the work and tests I took trying to graduate from TSU,” he told me emphatically.
This headline and the truthiness of the story were disputed by TSU and the Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Apparently in the writer’s rush to keep students awake at night wondering about their future, she confused reaccreditation and reaffirmation and used them interchangeably. Reporting on a story and not knowing the correct definitions and context of words while challenging the credentials of an award winning school is laughable and shameful! Did the reporter get tested before she left college? The President of SACS, Dr. Wheelan, sent a letter to the reporter’s publisher and editor explaining the process of reaffirmation since the reporter’s fifteen minute interview with SACS and what was printed failed to show she had a grasp of the subject matter that became sensationalized in the Nashville community because of the headlines and misstatements. SACS challenged the story but there has not been a correction or an apology for the misinformation but the story was given a new title. The story was complete with a daunting photo of Dr. Johnson who was pictured looking like the grim reaper who killed my youngest son’s financial aid.
As a mom of TSU students, I am part of the TSU family. I am proud of my sons. I was concerned about the rumors and half-truths that have reached fever pitch. I researched for myself the facts on both stories about TSU. I went to the administrators of TSU and asked about my sons’ futures at TSU. I have no time to deal with mess and mayhem designed to divide, alienate, and conquer through osmosis. I have one son graduating in May with his Masters and one son who need prayer. If I chose to send my sons to TSU, I am going to support the school when things are going great and when things are going bad. There is no perfect institution and no perfect administration. If there are issues that need addressing, by all means get them addressed. I made my list and action items this week. The TSU community should hold administrators and faculty accountable. But folks must come to the table with solutions and action plans with measurable outcomes. This is a time to course correct and used information that has been given (the good, the bad, and the ugly) to do things better. Let’s not feed into the negative atmosphere that some in Nashville wants to cloak over TSU like a creepy fog.
My granddaddy always said, “If you don’t care about what is yours, why do you think anyone else will or should.” Folks, I care about my sons and their education. The readers of the Tennessee Tribune , Genmaspeaks and the members of the Nashville community should think beyond one media’s narrative. At this point in history, we should leave the hate on a website’s comment section. That kind of demoralizing hate can destroy a community. Besides, there is too much good to do…young people MUST be educated and led to become productive citizens of this great country and of this wonderful city of Nashville.
(The SACS On-Site Committee arrived at TSU on Monday and will conclude its visit on Thursday March 25, 2010. Tennessee Tribune will report on their findings when it becomes available.)
Photo Credits:TSU CampusTSU
Dr. Melvin Johnson Tennessean
My sons-proud mom
Links to all schools audits: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/RA_SA/SAsub.asp?SC=CU&F=
Release dates of audits: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/AuditsAndReportsSearch/Results1.aspx