The NU Foundation’s Ivory Tower Heist by Ivy Harper

September 4, 2012


WASHINGTON, D.C. – by Ivy Harper (exclusive)

Starting in 2006, I experienced firsthand what Penn State showed the nation: public college administrators and faculty – and the Foundations that support them –  are accountable to no one. Even when wrong-doing is committed.

The Ivory Tower has no serious scrutiny or outside meaningful review; the academic side because of tenure; and the athletic side because of college football’s iconic status.

Trustees/Regents act as rubber-stampers and the hometown media as booster/cheerleaders.

So, woe to those who expect America’s Public Colleges and their leaders to be stewards of the lofty slogans carved into Academia’s ivy-covered walls. All one has to do at NU is substitute “academic/financial” for “physical/sexual” and the parallels are scarily similar to Penn State.

Long before Penn State, a member of the Unicameral summed up Academic arrogance and attitude in Nebraska: NU gets a complete pass since criticism, in the public mind, is tantamount to denigrating the Cornhuskers. And that, he told me with steely eyes, simply cannot be done. Don’t even try.

And NU/Foundation misdeeds? Forget about it, he said.

Instead, I ran for Congress, won the Democratic nomination, and discovered that the Nebraska public is far savvier than the Senator suggests. A great many are fed up with NU – and the NU Foundation – but they don’t see their concerns validated by the Nebraska media who protect both institutions in the same way that Pennsylvania’s media protected Penn State. The Penn State story came about because of a 20-something female reporter who kept digging and had to beg to get her Harrisburg-filed stories published.

For starters, most Cornhuskers agree that a Vice-Chancellor in Kearney should not earn $100,000.00 more in salary than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. UN-L has – literally – hundreds of employees who make more money than John Roberts. The “hyper-trophying hordes of overpaid ‘managers,’ one noted college critic calls them.

The NU Regents and the University of Nebraska Business & Finance staff who prepared the infamous September 5, 2008 “Executive Salary Equity Initiative” wrote how NU Chancellors must “compete” in the bogus and business-driven salary arms race because it is the “Board’s philosophy and intent to provide competitive salaries to the administrative leadership of the university.”

But the Regents and NU Business & Finance Staff continue to use worn-out dogma and rationales merely to justify excess. NU constantly talks about “keeping up with their “Peers” in the Big Ten.” To that I say, “Peer Pressure: isn’t that what Educators teach kids in Middle School to avoid?”

Here’s a better way to view the “executive salary equity” arms race. Just because the President of Ohio State buys a Hummer and brags about it, does that mean that NU should buy a Hummer on steroids. Or a tank. If the President of Ohio State, managed to retrofit an aircraft carrier and drove that around campus, should Nebraska’s five Chancellors follow?

No, NU Chancellors should buy a small, “smart” car and feel content—and proud–that they are not taking part in the escalating, immoral, and business-driven belief that bigger is always better or that more money can always be justified because after all, how many Nebraskans attend NU Regent meetings and how many feel that they can do anything about the Ivory Tower’s Heist.

Beyond that, Nebraskans don’t like NU’s rampant nepotism. And the egregious revolving “lobbying” door between the state’s politicians and NU.

Here’s the way NU operates:  a powerful Political/Corporate/College Clique (PCC) dominates all decisions in the manner of a cabal rather than a democratic republic. The “Public” – for whom all Federal Morrill Land Grant Act Universities were actually established – is cut out of the picture.

The University of Nebraska has stellar, ethical, and dedicated employees, athletes, administrators, and faculty. Don’t get me wrong. But people are not perfect. Mistakes are made, crimes are committed, and – like the entire country’s campus culture – NU’s modus operandi is to circle-the-wagons. Marginalize challengers. Oz-like omnipotence: their academic birthright. Protect the place at all costs. The smugness of adored-one-football-team-states is epitomized in the words of one of NU’s legal counsel who – when apprised of UNO wrong-doing – cavalierly quipped, “So sue us.”

Like that’s gonna happen. Between qualified immunity, lawsuit dismissal, and Nebraska judges reducing jury verdicts against NU from $280,000 thousand dollars to $25 thousand dollars, legal recourse, too, remains out-of-bounds for those who seek justice. When colleges understand that no penalties or sanctions are attached to their actions, clearly, red flags mean nothing.

What to do?

First, Nebraska must establish an independent, objective Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the University of Nebraska, the state’s largest employer; and for the NU Foundation.

Second, Nebraska must legislatively alter the status of the NU Foundation from “private, non-profit,” to “public, non-profit” so the Foundation’s books are subject to Freedom of Information requests and Nebraska Open Records laws and so that ordinary citizens have a say in their billion-dollar “public” Foundations.

After all, NU Foundation fund-raisers raise money by invoking NU, the state’s only public Land Grant University. Why shouldn’t it, therefore, be public, too.

Perhaps, Penn State will be remembered as the Day the Prevailing College Culture Died. And that’s a good thing.

No longer should public university faculty or administrators – themselves –  be allowed to determine the outcome of any challenges to them, their decisions, their absolute authority. Tenure was not intended to shield procedural, academic, or faculty wrong-doing. Since NU’s Educators now call themselves “Executives,” they should live in the real world of “employment at will.” They can’t have it both ways.

There are 4,000 colleges in America and just one in each state (at the minimum) was purposely created for We the People by the Federal/Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, a visionary concept that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln who knew that American citizens deserved an egalitarian Education Nation not a U.S. version of Versailles. (which the NU Foundation acts like.)

As the one and only state capital named after America’s greatest president, let’s let Lincoln do our namesake proud and truly accept the actual takeaway from Penn State: public colleges must change. The Unicameral needs to make that happen. Soon.

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