- A lawsuit filed by the University of Wisconsin System accuses former UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Tom Sonnleitner of illegal money transfers in support of construction projects around the campus.
- The lawsuit says that the two former executives funneled more than $11 million in university funds to five university-related building projects, including a hotel & conference center and a sports complex, which were initially described as capital projects to be paid by the UW-Oshkosh Foundation.
- The investigation has led to firings and a system-wide review of relationships between member schools and foundations.
Foundation support is an essential aspect of building the public college enterprise, and a source of trouble for many campuses with ambitious goals of expansion, or struggles to stay in business. In this case, officials appear to have brokered an illegal partnership with the vision of making money through the capital projects before suspicions were aroused.
For campus leaders, the story is a cautionary tale about maintaining a clear separation between the school and supporting organizations. Even at lower management levels, allowing employees to mingle work assignments or to disburse payments from varying accounts can lead to audit and inquiry that may reveal more than just one set of questionable expenditures.