Ball State University & Gannett: The Blame Game Continues

MUNCIE, Indiana – For those following the story about the “investment loss of $13.1 million” by Ball State University, you’ve witnessed one of the most bizarre news events in Muncie, Indiana’s history. We’re getting a few emails and Facebook messages all saying about the same thing, “What are Ball State and The StarPress doing? Don’t they know this looks horrible for both?”

Maybe it’s a lack of leadership – the full-time editor for the Gannett owned, The StarPress, bailed several months ago as the writing has been on the wall…the newspaper industry is dying, but even faster in Muncie, Indiana. They suffer from a poor reputation, high costs to advertise, low quality, declining readership, online news sources in digital, and changing preferences in the consumer base. Sales staff have left and so are reporters – morale is poor. It’s a case of abandon ship.

Ball State just lost their decade long leader, Jo Ann Gora, to retirement. while she had been at the helm during the loss, she’s had both feet out the door for six months.

However, if I used these two excuses, I’d just be adding to the blame game and lack of accountability demonstrated by both entities in Muncie. Gannett has long abandoned their role as a trustworthy journalistic entity holding government accountable on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Their conservative roots have a very long history in Indiana. Their relationship with Ball State, especially at the administrative level, has been cozy to appease the local Ball family philanthropic interests.

A free and independent press works for the people and is accountable to the readers/subscribers/citizens.

A state-run educational institution is owned by the people and is accountable to taxpayers.

When a state-run institution screws up, the newspaper is supposed to hold them accountable, seek out the truth, and share this with the people.

First off, Ball State does not sound like an entity wanting to be held accountable. From the first communication by former President Gora, to today, they have hidden behind federal investigators gag order and a 60-year-old employee who went chasing higher returns on taxpayer money and got burnt. She covered up getting burnt rather effectively, but losing $13.1 million should send off red flags all over the auditing/accounting departments. Nobody knew what she was doing for 2-3 years.

Once they discovered a problem, they should have contacted the State Board of Accounts for an investigation, but we haven’t been told of any. In fact, Muncie Voice reached out to the SBOA and federal investigators, but both are refusing to comment. Our questions sent to Ball State were ignored.

Where are the Board of Trustees? Where are all these federal investigators who told BSU to be quiet indefinitely? When did the gag order end? Did SBOA know about the full extent of the auditing breakdown? Why wasn’t this reported to lawmakers?

Our state representatives were clueless about this loss. We asked our state senator and representative and received word from Representative Sue Errington. She learned of it from reading the paper which was tipped off by Christie Smythe from Bloomberg, who was never given credit by The StarPress reporters. She tipped it off and Muncie Voice put it on social media, but wasn’t credited either. Plagiarism, perhaps?

Ball State University reacted to the news…they weren’t ready. Supposedly, Mrs. Gora and all the administrators have “lost sleep” (according to her departing email to employees) over the last three years because of this investment loss, but none of the administrators refused to accept bonuses from the Board of Trustees during the same period – did they?

Why were they still given bonuses if the Trustees knew they lost $13.1 million? How is paying bonuses to department heads and the president holding them accountable for losing millions in taxpayer funds? Did the Trustees even know?

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.Scottish author & novelist (1771 – 1832)

If Ball State Trustees were truly working hand in hand with federal investigators, their lawyers, the State Board of Accounts, state lawmakers, etc., here’s what I firmly expect would have happened:

  • The Trustees would have hired an independent consultant to review the financial controls of the university immediately.
  • The Board would have notified the SBOA’s of the loss and actions taken. Lawmakers would have been notified.
  • A thoroughly vetted statement and press package would have been prepared awaiting the approval of federal investigators.
  • Once the approval was granted, a press conference would have been called with federal investigators, a select few Trustees, a representative from the auditing department, SBOA auditor, and one state lawmaker.
  • A brief statement would have been read and then opened up for questions.

We got nothing that even resembled this proactive measure. We’ve heard nothing but rationalizations for the loss and nobody is taking ownership. They want us to believe that a worried 60 year investment officer was able to deceive a whole department of auditing and financial experts at a university the size of Ball State. They called in lawyers from Defur Voran only after the two-year loss was leaked to the community. The Gannett owned newspaper has been all too willing to sit back and be spoon fed what Ball State and their lawyers are preparing for them to share to the community.

As taxpayers, alumni and members of this community, we should be insulted. If you’re a paid subscriber of the Gannett owned, The StarPress, cancel it. If you’re an advertiser, cancel it.

We looked up Ball State’s mission: “We embrace accountability, adaptability, and agility.”

Yet when faced with a real life situation, and having two years to prepare a response, where is the “accountability”?

There are many great ideals in their mission statement, but have they been role modeled? You read them, and then tell us.

The appearance is one of an institution who thought they had neatly swept it under the rug, and got caught with their pants down once it became public. They’ve called in their friendly media outlet, circled the wagons with lawyers, and asked everyone else to flip on their vacation responders until it all blows over.

Muncie deserves better all the way around.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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