Wright State University trustees touted their release Friday of a long-guarded audit as a statement that they are “committed to transparency,” but hundreds of pages of the report are redacted and they still refuse to release other records related to the audit.
The public university paid the forensic accounting firm Plante Moran more than $360,000 for the detailed review of numerous oversight failures and potential misdeeds in its research funding operation. The final report is dated October 2016 but trustees refused for months to release it under Ohio public records law, claiming it was exempt from disclosure under attorney-client privilege.
They reversed course last week, voting to release the full 872 pages of audit and supporting documents. But approximately 335 pages are completely blacked out and more than 130 additional pages had information that was partially redacted, a Dayton Daily News examination of the audit found.
Some of the information not released were bank account numbers and employee ID numbers while other records are protected by a nondisclosure agreement or prohibited from being released by state law, Wright State attorneys said. Lawyers for WSU also cited revised code that protects the release of “trade secrets.”
The audit redactions illustrate a lack of transparency on issues at Wright State, said Marty Kich, a Lake Campus professor and president of WSU’s American Association of University Professors.
“I think it creates a continuous issue with public perception,” Kich said.
Michael Bridges, chairman of WSU’s board of trustees, defended the redactions.
All of them were made by the university’s attorneys and none were directed by the board, Bridges said. Trustees said they wanted to release the audit to move on from the university’s past scandals and to make the school more transparent.
“The purpose of this was to use it constructively, to move the university to a higher place,” Bridges said.
Release of the audit was done to build trust on campus, said Doug Fecher, vice chairman of the board. There have been too many instances when “constituencies on campus” were unaware of what was going on at their own school, he said.
“When you don’t know why things are going on it creates a mistrust,” Fecher said. “I think a public university ends up with a better perception when it’s transparent.”
Some records still withheld
Misuse of temporary work visas, conflicts of interest and lacking financial controls were among concerns cited in the audit.
Trustees say the administration pushed back on some of the findings but are refusing to release those written objections, saying those too are protected under attorney-client privilege.
Bridges said the objections are what you would expect considering the nature of some of the audit’s findings.
“When you challenge the administration with an audit, there is never a time when they’re not going to take issue with something,” Bridges said.
WSU’s audit was conducted by a private firm. If the Ohio Auditor’s office had conducted a financial compliance audit, the responses would be public, said Ben Marrison, spokesman for the state auditor.
More than 80 students and faculty protested at the Friday meeting where trustees unanimously approved the audit’s release. Some of the signs held by the students said, “Release the audit.”
Max Carone, who helped organize the demonstration, said students “want all the information” instead of the bits and pieces they’ve gotten.
“That’s what transparency is,” he said. “It’s not giving us things when it’s convenient. It’s giving us what we need to know.”
MORE I-TEAM WSU COVERAGE:
The Dayton Daily News is your only source for up-to-the-minute information about the budget crisis and federal investigation involving Wright State University.