Why can’t the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate produce accurate numbers showing the University of Wisconsin’s annual expenditures in the System’s Minority and Disadvantaged Program report?

UW’s M&D expenditure totals for two of the last three years contain large and inexcusable errors. These errors distort UW System expenditures reported in the Board of Regent’s annual report on M&D Programs. By statute, this report is circulated to the governor and both houses of the state Legislature.

UW reported M&D expenditures in 2014-15 of only $19.1 million, as contrasted to expenditures of $33.1 million in the previous year, 2013-14. With all the emphasis campus administrators give to diversity, how could Madison’s expenditures drop so substantially in a single year? And, similarly, how could UW System expenditures drop to only $49.7 million after reaching $67.0 million the previous year?

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Careful examination of UW’s data submission by the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate revealed a multi-million error that nobody at UW or in the UW System caught. It arose because instead of showing a $14.2 million entry for UW “Institutional Scholarships,” the reported figure was $195,691. Any observant staff member should have spotted this obvious error.

But, this error did escape notice, despite a long paragraph in the M&D report describing UW System’s elaborate data checking process. This included comparing current year figures with those for the prior year.

Careful examination of UW’s data submission by the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate revealed a multi-million error that nobody at UW or in the UW System caught.

At my urging, the UW System did correct the March 2016 M&D report. But it took two corrected M&D reports, one in June 2016 and a second in July 2016, before the System officials could get the numbers right. The problem was more than “a proofreading error.”

In UW’s earlier 2012-13 M&D data submission, I discovered a “phantom” expenditure of $3.7 million for a business school minority program. On checking, I learned the business school reported no such program. When alerted to this matter, Ruby Paredes, assistant vice chancellor for diversity and climate of the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate, explained this expenditure was inadvertently added in the draft report. How could this odd number have been “inadvertently added?” Why wasn’t this error caught in the System’s data checking process?

Because the UW System officials never acted on my request for a correction, M&D expenditures reported in the 2012-13 report remain overstated by $3.7 million for both UW and the UW System.

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After discovering this second error, I requested UW System officials, Regent members of its Audit Committee and the Regent’s auditor to undertake a financial audit of M&D expenditures for all recent years. No response came from anyone.

All I can assume is that the Regents don’t care about the accuracy of reported M&D expenditures. Nor do the Regents seem much interested in knowing whether its on-going expenditure on UW’s approximately 50 M&D programs is effective in furthering the goals of diversity.

A few years ago, I described what appeared to be serious errors in earlier M&D expenditure reports. Let me give one example that should have attracted widespread attention.

UW’s M&D expenditures, obtained through Open Records requests, on diversity programs operated by UW’s Division of Residence Halls fluctuated wildly from year to year. In 2005-06 its M&D expenditures amounted to $3.2 million, rose to $3.5 million in 2006-07, jumped to $8.5 million in 2007-08, dropped back to $3.5 million in 2008-09 and jumped once again to $8.7 million in 2009-10. In 2010-11 M&D expenditures dropped to a suspicious low of $6,052 and held at $6,095 in 2011-12. But expenditures suddenly rose again, to $2.3 million in 2012-13. What accounts for this erratic pattern deserves examination.

Many other questions arise about UW’s reported data for this span of years. For example, the data on Full Time Equivalencies counts for particular programs vary in strange ways. In some cases, they remain constant year after year to two decimal points (e.g., 2.71 FTEs). In some cases, the balance between salaries and other expenses does not make sense. I should add that I stumbled on one other “phantom” expenditure of $1 million.

Whatever the strength of their commitment to diversity, the Board of Regents have an obligation to conduct a thorough financial audit of M&D program expenditures. This must be done to assure the public that M&D annual expenditures are accurately reported, that these funds are used to good effect and that the Board’s commitment to public accountability is not empty rhetoric.

W. Lee Hansen ([email protected]) is a Professor Emeritus in Economics at UW.