Watchdog: More transparency from MUW Foundation

JACKSON — A legislative watchdog group recommends more transparency from the Mississippi University for Women Foundation, Inc., after looking into complaints about the organization’s financial activities.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, or PEER, publicly released its report Thursday based on its investigation of allegations the foundation operated in secrecy, among other claims made by three alumnae.

University foundations usually decide how private donations are sought and spent. PEER said transparency is compromised at MUW by the absence of complete minutes from meetings and a strategic plan.

The PEER report said one alumna described “an ever-increasing wall of silence” when it comes to foundation fundraising, investments and expenditures.

The report found no evidence of wrongdoing in regard to other allegations that included the creation of slush fund for MUW President Claudia Limbert and possible violations of federal and state laws by obtaining a line of credit and making payments to the university to employ a marketing company.

However, the foundation “has been lax in its exercise of budgetary and other approval controls over the expenditures” of money in its unrestricted fund, the report said.

The foundation also “imperiled restricted and endowed funds” by pledging the money as collateral when it obtained a credit line in 2005 to repair buildings damaged by a 2002 tornado.

The MUW Foundation has begun implementing some changes, said R. Edward Betcher, chairman of the foundation board.

“The investigation was requested by disgruntled alumnae who leveled sensational allegations on a number of issues,” Betcher said in a statement.

Limbert, in an e-mailed statement, said because PEER found no misuse or misappropriation of funds it “is an affirmation that the foundation and its board members operate in a supportive and effective manner.”

PEER recommended the foundation, which was created in 1965, begin publishing its strategic plan, copies of IRS forms and audited financial statements on its Web site.

PEER also recommended the state College Board adopt a policy requiring all university foundations to be more transparent, and at a minimum, make public copies of some IRS and financial audit statements, strategic plans, performance data on programs, expense reports and policies.

Shela Byrd/The Associated Press