Report about former WWU administrator raises troubling questions

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 17, 2012 

At Western Washington University, former administrator Doug Nord has agreed to repay the university $20,000 after questions arose about his off-campus travels. He also will pay a $5,000 penalty as part of his settlement with the State Executive Ethics Board.

After The Bellingham Herald's story about the case ran in Thursday's paper, I read the State Auditor's report and the settlement agreement. Oh, where to begin.

Nord was paid $105,000 a year - roughly $400 a day - while he was director of Western's Center for International Studies. He held the job from December 2007 to September 2010, when he stepped down to become a political science professor pulling in $81,900 annually.

The auditor's report found that WWU spent more than $38,000 for 22 trips that Nord took between his hiring date and June 2009. That figure doesn't include Nord's salary for the days he was gone.

Put another way, in a case full of numbers, Nord spent 48 percent of his time away from campus from December 2007 to October 2008 yet never submitted leave slips, the necessary paperwork, for any of that time.

First, a quick review of the pertinent rules at Western.

Faculty members are paid to teach. They're supposed to do research on their own time and their own dime unless they ask for and get "professional leave," which is only allowed after they've worked there for six years. In other words, they have to pay their dues and jump through some hoops.

Administrators are paid to run programs. They're supposed to do research, other scholarly work and attend professional activities unrelated to their job on their own time and their own dime. If they want special treatment, they have to ask in advance.

According to the auditor's report, Nord said he considered himself a faculty member and would not accrue leave or have to account for his absences.

Nord initially applied to Western for an administrative position, and his letter of interest cited his administrative background as qualifications. In response, Western's letter to him offered Nord an administrative appointment. During his first week on the job, Nord underwent new-hire training, including how to submit "leave slips," which are used to account for administrators' time.

Before Nord came to Bellingham, Western told him that he should teach political science 25 percent of the time, but a follow-up letter two weeks later withdrew that idea.

Oddly, Western's schedule listed Nord as teaching a few classes from 2008 to early 2010, though some classes seemed more phantom than real. It leaves you to wonder who's minding the store.

Now a few - and I emphasis a few - of the specifics, and some comments:

Wrights and wrongs: During Nord's previous job at Wright State University, in Ohio, an audit found nearly $14,000 in unauthorized and questionable travel expenditures by him. The provost there strongly encouraged to Nord to resign from his executive director's job, and Nord made unspecified reimbursements.

In other words, he's a repeat offender. Did the Western officials who hired him know about his problems at Wright? If not, why not? If they did, why did they still hire him?

A complaint at Western in October 2008 sparked an in-house review that came out in January 2009. That review cites Nord's problems at Wright State. Why wasn't he fired then?

To Sweden with love: According to Nord's résumé, he was a visiting professor several times at Umea University in Sweden, and received an honorary doctorate there. He booked air travel to Sweden while at Wright but after he had accepted the job at Western, later saying he did so with Western in mind because he thought Western would be a "good fit" with Umea.

The reports don't say whether Nord talked to Western leaders ahead of time about going to Sweden, but Western picked up $1,732 of the expense.

After an exchange program was created, Umea sent six students here for a total of 12 quarters, but just one Western student attended Umea for two quarters. Net result: a 10-quarter, $20,520 deficit for Western. Not a good fit.

Have car, will park: Nord repeatedly had Western pay for long-term airport parking, up to two weeks. Example: In April 2009, he and two other professors flew to a conference in New Mexico. One professor flew out of Bellingham and billed Western $28 for parking. The second professor took a taxi round-trip to Bellingham airport; his fare was $43. Nord flew out of Vancouver, B.C. His parking tab: $114.

San Diego beckons: As vice president of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, Nord was planning the nonprofit group's November 2009 conference in San Diego. He flew to San Diego three times, totaling about 18 days, to prepare, even though the venue had been booked several years earlier and a former association veep who had planned a conference said it was normal to make at least one site visit and then handle follow-up details by phone and e-mail.

According to the auditor's report, Nord said Western officials, after their own investigation, never asked him to submit leave slips for any of his absences.

However the university's report included six recommendations to the provost to tighten controls. The provost replied that no changes to campus policy or practices were needed. Later, Western adopted steps to reduce future problems.

In Thursday's Herald story, a campus spokesman said faculty members, referring to Nord, can't be fired unless charges have been filed and a hearing has been held.

Why Nord survived long enough to become a faculty member is beyond me.

SEE THE REPORTS

Read the State Auditor's Office report on Douglas Nord's activities.

Read Nord's settlement with the State Executive Ethics Board.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service