College News

Report finds UW-Madison transacted misdirected checks and funds

A recent UW System report found that the university did have a few questionable transactions.

Image By: Morgan Winston

A UW System-wide audit that looked at university and foundation relationships found that while UW-Madison did not make allegedly illegal payments like UW-Oshkosh, the university did have some questionable transactions.

The transactions in question were mainly between the university and its private foundation, including misdirected donor contributions and payments made by Learfield Communications, for part of a contract for sports media rights, the report revealed.

However, in 26 of the instances involving questionable transactions, checks were incorrectly addressed from donors to the university itself, when they were intended for the foundation. The university chose to transfer the money back to the foundation, even though the university is supposed to keep the money if the donor’s intent is unclear.

“UW-Madison works diligently to ensure that our interactions with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association follow the appropriate UW System policies,” Laurent Heller, vice chancellor of finance and administration at UW-Madison, said in a Thursday statement.

There have been a total of 377 transactions from UW schools to their respective foundations, totaling $35.5 million. The recently released report found that none of these transactions were blatantly illegal but nearly 50 of them were found to have been operating in a transactional grey area, including the appropriation of funds to the schools’ private foundations.

The majority of these transactions have valid reasons for moving funds from the various UW universities to their private foundations — such as paying back a foundation scholarship if a student quits, renting space in a foundation-owned building or moving a gift that a donor mistakenly sent to the university instead of the foundation.

These findings come after UW System officials launched an investigation in response to a financial scandal at UW-Oshkosh last year. Former UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and former UW-Oshkosh Chief Business Officer Thomas Sonnleitner are charged with illegally transferring money from the school to its foundation, with a jury trial set for August 2018.

“We’re pleased that the UW System comprehensive review found no evidence of concerns like those raised at UW-Oshkosh,” Heller said in the statement. “We are working collaboratively with UW System and the Foundation to implement improvements in documentation or other processes identified by the review.”

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