Directors explain decision to join compliance and audit offices
MSU announced a change in the structure of their new compliance office that will centralize the existing Department of Audit and Risk with the still-evolving compliance office. When the office was initially announced in July by Interim President John Engler, MSU law professor Nicholas Wittner was named interim director.
The offices will now act independently, but with the same director, Marilyn Tarrant. She was previously executive director of audit and risk, but will now also act as chief compliance officer.
While sources reported Wittner resigned from his position, forcing the change of plan, he said he always intended to act in an interim role.
“I would not have transitioned back to my teaching role if it weren’t for my due diligence and confidence that Michigan State has put the right people in place and implemented the right procedures to protect our university community,” Wittner said. “I was satisfied that was the case when I made my decision that I would request moving back into the classroom.”
Wittner said, while he intends to teach and not be in charge of compliance, he will still take an active role as a senior advisor to Tarrant, a position reflected in the organizational chart he provided to The State News. He referred to a Sept. 12 email he sent to Engler, explaining his availability two days per week to “assist MSU administration and the compliance office and staff however (Engler) would like, if at all.”
Tarrant said the centralization was an important step in creating the Office of Compliance.
“If you have separate functions aside from any central reporting mechanism, there’s always the risk they saw something they didn’t think was important based on their knowledge,” Tarrant said. “You can miss a total risk area that others–if they had this whole thing embedded together–they would have identified.
“I’m able to do that with this team coming up with the audit reports and the monitoring function. There’s a lot to monitor; there’s a lot of risk on campus and we can identify those risks. We can understand prevention methods are in place and we can move forward with that.”
Wittner and Tarrant both firmly denied statements made by Trustee Brian Mosallam in a recent Detroit Free Press article. In his statement, Mosallam said the centralization of the two offices will lead to the compliance office being undermined.
This centralization is somewhat unusual, but Wittner referred to a document from the American Law Institute–a national group of leading law professionals–concerning compliance in corporate organizations and universities which said, “There is no ‘one size that fits all.’”
“Reasonable minds can differ about what approaches there are, and how procedures and organization structures should be implemented for a particular organization,” Wittner said.
Wittner referred to other universities that do not combine the two offices as “apples and oranges.”
“The reality is that a number of them were in response to scandals like Penn State, which followed recommendations from former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Ohio State had its own issues as well, Rutgers too,” Wittner said.
When contacted Nov. 5 by text message to clarify these comments, Wittner responded because the issues at other schools happened in athletic departments as opposed to the medical departments, his and Tarrant’s focus was on the areas where breakdowns occurred, such as the Colleges of Human Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine.
“I expect that the compliance function for us will be tailored with an emphasis on health care and the Office of Civil Rights,” he wrote.
The compliance office is vacant, but Tarrant said she hopes to fill the four positions listed on the organizational chart by early 2019.
The key, she and Wittner said, is that the new organizational chart gives her a direct line to the Board of Trustees, meaning they have a direct responsibility to respond to any concerns she brings up — a privilege she was not afforded in her old position.
“I have full confidence in the way that the new structure has been organized and I have immense confidence from having worked with her (Tarrant) from the moment I stepped on this campus with her,” Wittner said.
Tarrant said her goals for the period before the compliance office is filled are to create a risk matrix to distribute to all officers in the compliance office and a university-wide Code of Ethics, which Wittner said he will be involved in creating.
“We need to have people understand if you do something, there’s a consequence, whether it’s disciplinary, termination, could be the police, whatever the case might be,” Tarrant said. “I think we’ll change the culture here. It’s gonna be an evolution, but we’ll get there over a short period of time.”