Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Person of the Year

Yesterday I announced our Newsmaker of the Year here in Oshkosh.  Now I'm going to hand out our Person of the Year honoree.  The difference between the two is that the Newsmaker was the busiest--but the Person of the Year had the most-positive effect on the city.  And this year, that person was UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt.

I cannot overstate the courage and ethics that it took for Leavitt to expose the financial scheme that he inherited involving the school and the UWO Foundation.  It would have been very easy to look the other way after finding the improper letters of guarantee signed by his predecessor Chancellor Richard Wells.  He probably could have continued to finagle the numbers in his budget to keep making secretive transfers to the Foundation to keep paying debt on the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center and those two useless bio-digesters.  Those responsible for the scheme could have been kept on the payroll--or allowed to quietly move on to other jobs without ever being held accountable.

But Chancellor Leavitt did what you would hope everyone in his position would do--but so many fail to do so.  He stood up and said "This is not right--and I am not going to be a part of it."  And the aftermath has not been pleasant.  Two of those responsible for the scheme are facing a civil lawsuit filed by the UW System to try and recoup some of the money that was inappropriately transferred from the school coffers.  State lawmakers took the school to task for lack of oversight and refused to apply taxpayer money to the Foundation debts.  The Foundation filed for bankruptcy--then sued the school.  The banks owed money by the Foundation considered seizing their assets.  The State audited all of the UW System foundations to see if similar malfeasance was occurring.  The football team almost had to forfeit a playoff game because it wouldn't be able to pay for travel expenses.  There were even complaints among the faculty that the Chancellor should have kept his mouth shut and "handled things internally".

But Chancellor Leavitt is providing a valuable lesson not just to his students and faculty but to everyone here in Oshkosh--and it's a lesson so few of us have to deal with anymore: When you do something wrong you need to be held accountable.  It will likely be years before the Foundation scandal and the mess it created will be straightened out, but UWO and Oshkosh itself will be in a much better place because the Chancellor was willing to do what was right.

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