Pennsylvania’s auditor general is turning his magnifying glass on the state’s largest university.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced Tuesday that he was beginning the “first ever performance audit” of Penn State that would focus on many things that have been headlines for the university in recent years, including tuition, governance and the reforms that happened after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“Nearly five years have passed since the news broke about Sandusky’s sexual abuse of children,” DePasquale said in his press release. “Through this audit, we will test the university’s implementation of new policies and procedures intended to prevent sexual, physical or emotional abuse.”
According to DePasquale, auditors will take a specific look at “the extent to which Penn State has implemented recommendations of a November 2012 Department of the Auditor General’s special report on governance reform in wake of the child sexual abuse scandal.”
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That includes compliance with state and federal background checks for employees and others affiliated with the university.
Then there is the governance aspect.
In the wake of the scandal, Penn State’s board of trustees looked at changes to its governance structure. There were talks of downsizing and discussions about changes in the General Assembly, but before the legislature could get involved, the board adopted its own changes. Instead of making the board smaller, it grew to 39 trustees, with three of those non-voting.
In a conference call with the press, DePasquale said he was looking at all aspects of recommendations made regarding governance. Asked specifically about the size, he said, “I know that was one of the recommendations. We will be reviewing them all.”
He called former Auditor General Jack Wagner’s report “very sound.”
“I would second that,” said Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano.
The 2012 report made recommendations about the structure and function of the board, specifically regarding transparency and accountability. DePasquale’s audit will look at how those recommendations have been handled.
“We also will look at how Penn State complies with the federal and state laws relating to sexual violence prevention and response, sexual assault prevention, dating violence education and the protection of minors,” DePasquale said. “A university campus should be a safe place for all.”
Lastly, he pointed to a review of the university’s actions pertaining to tuition and cost control.
“Parents and students at Penn State, and all college and universities for that matter, are grappling with how to pay for higher education,” DePasquale said. “Controlling spending is key to keeping tuition costs reined in, and such expenditure monitoring is especially important for a taxpayer-supported institution such as Penn State.”
Penn State held the line on tuition in the 2015-16 school year with a freeze on costs for in-state students, despite costs incurred by the budget impasse in Harrisburg. The administration could not maintain a second year of tuition freeze at all campuses, although eight campuses did hold the line. The university did see increases that were still historically low at the other 13 campuses, including University Park, which saw the highest increase, at 2.29 percent or $190.
Penn State’s tuition increases were less than those by fellow state-related universities Pitt and Temple.
DePasquale could not say how long the audit would take, but said Penn State’s cooperation would make the difference in time frame.
The university responded to the announcement.
“We understand this is a routine audit that some other Pennsylvania higher education institutions have undergone in recent years. We welcome the opportunity to share with the auditor general our many reforms and actions to help ensure the safety of our community, as well as our efforts to keep a Penn State education accessible. We are already discussing how to meet this request in a timely and efficient manner,” said spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
According to state records, Temple was last audited in 2011. Pitt had results of a performance audit announced in March. That audit covered a period from 2010 to 2013. Lincoln University, the fourth state-related school, had a 2009 audit completed and results announced in 2012.
Asked why the audit was targeted at the specific areas he is investigating rather than a comprehensive, top-to-bottom look at all aspects of the university, DePasquale responded tongue-in-cheek.
“I want the audit to be done before I retire ... I can’t even imagine how long that would take,” he said. “The Pirates would probably win the World Series before that audit would be completed.”