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IT'S ON YOU Mid-Continent trustee's try at deflecting blame falls short

The Mid-Continent University Board of Trustees owes the community some answers. And they need to be better answers than a low-bore effort by one trustee to blame the board chairman and a mid-level university employee for keeping the board "in the dark" about the college's financial problems.

Blaming others for the board not knowing the magnitude of the financial problems might have flown a year or two ago. But there was no excuse for any board member not to know the college was on the brink in the past year and take decisive action, which board members failed to do.

Trustees by definition have a responsibility for financial oversight. It speaks volumes that after a fourth failed effort to comply with Department of Education funding documentation requirements and public admissions that the college was at risk of closing, the trustees just couldn't bring themselves to fire the college president, Robert Imhoff, and his wife Jackie, who oversaw the "Advantage" program that increasingly appears to be at the core of the college's financial woes.

The board waited until last week to fire the Imhoffs, then fired everyone else who works for the college on Tuesday, announcing the school was out of money. To what end? It was a spineless display by the trustees and an abdication of their fiduciary responsibilities amid an obvious crisis.

Tuesday, as employees and faculty members were packing their personal belongings into boxes, trustee Gale Hawkins of Murray tried to pin the blame elsewhere. Specifically, he singled out board chairman Tom Butler and school spokesman Bill Bartleman for keeping the financial problems "hidden" from the board.

First we will note that Bill Bartleman, who was a longtime employee of this newspaper, was not a trustee or financial officer of the college. He was an employee - reporting to the Imhoffs, whom Hawkins and the other trustees protected to the bitter end.

Second it strikes us that the people who have been hiding information are the trustees themselves. Mid-Continent fancies itself a private institution, and to that end trustees have conducted virtually all of their discussions of the crisis and how to deal with it in a series of marathon closed sessions.

Yet the college depends on public money for the vast majority of its operations. It was using $1.6 million in money advanced by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority to keep the doors open through Tuesday. The entire larger crisis revolves around $9 million of federal student aid that has been withheld from the college because of compliance issues. That also is public money. We think that means the college and especially the board should act in a more public fashion by openly explaining - to the taxpayers, the 190 faculty and staff who lost their jobs, and the college's 1,900 students - exactly why the 60-year-old institution has collapsed. It will take nothing less if the board entertains any thought of the college someday rising from the ashes.

By every account the problem with obtaining the Department of Education funds has been ministerial in nature. It involves such things as failure to have students' high school transcripts on file or failure to get prior approval for buildings where classes are taught. In other words, pure management ineptitude. If so, responsibility for that falls squarely on the trustees.

The Mid-Continent trustees need to take a look in the mirror and accept responsibility for the harm they have done. And they need to learn from the experience if they want to have any hope of reviving the college in the future.

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