State audit faults Morgan

State university called lax in keeping records of black art collection

January 08, 1999|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Morgan State University for not keeping tabs on its multimillion-dollar art collection, saying the institution lacks sufficient documentation on the location of its artwork.

The university's James E. Lewis Museum of Art, renowned for an extensive African-American collection, closed abruptly for two weeks last year while university officials investigated allegations of security and management problems there.

The facility has since reopened. Its director, Gabriel S. Tenabe, who was reassigned for several weeks during the internal inquiry, has returned to his duties, according to university officials.

The state Office of Legislative Audits, responding to a report of the museum's closing in The Sun last March, found that the university has not taken inventory since 1988.

The auditors also reported that the museum lacks "comprehensive records" showing where the works of art are or when they were acquired. Nothing received from donors after 1996 had been logged in, the report says. Such recordkeeping is essential to ensure that artwork is not lost or stolen, and state agencies are required to conduct inventories every three years.

President Earl S. Richardson did not dispute the findings in the Nov. 30 auditors' report, but he said in an interview this week that an outside consultant hired to do an inventory has found that the art collection is intact.

"Everything is in order," Richardson said. "We have no reason to believe that the collection is not being maintained."

All artwork supposed to be in the museum has been accounted for by the consultant except for a small number of prints, Richardson said. Those prints are locked in the museum director's office, the president added.

University officials, however, refused to release the report by the consultant, Kenneth Rodgers, director of North Carolina Central University's African-American art museum.

"It's a private collection, and it's an internal document," said Wiley Hall, university director of communications. Hall said university officials consider the museum's art private because the works were acquired through donations, without any expenditure of public funds -- even though Morgan State is a public institution in Northeast Baltimore.

The museum reportedly has more than 3,000 works of art, including some paintings and sculptures by noted American and European artists, but neither Richardson nor Hall could say whether that was an accurate tally of the collection's size.

The audit report says university officials valued the collection at nearly $7.4 million. Richardson said its true worth is closer to $6 million. He said he did not know where the auditors got their information, but suggested that the worth of some donated works may have been inflated in the past for tax purposes.

The auditors' criticism of the art museum was included in a broader critique of the university. It finds "significant deficiencies" in Morgan State's internal controls over funds received and paid out to students and others.

State auditors noted that three former university employees -- including the director of the Head Start program -- have been charged with stealing nearly $100,000 in three schemes since 1994, all unrelated to the art collection.

University officials say they discovered the thefts, which have been prosecuted, and restitution has been paid. The auditors report suggests that at least one of the thefts -- of a $27,000 check for postage -- might have been prevented if the university had tighter controls.

The auditors found the university lax in collecting delinquent loan payments and fees due from students, and in allowing some out-of-state students to enroll as Maryland residents, thereby getting an unwarranted break on tuition. Sixty-one percent of the 5,909 students enrolled in fall 1997 paid in-state tuition, the report says, when tuition was $2,600 for Maryland residents and $7,180 for nonresidents.

Richardson said the university is working to correct the problems found by the state auditors and characterized the problems as typical of public colleges.

"We're no worse and no better than all of our institutions," he said. "We have made significant progress."

State Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat who is co-chairman of the joint Audit Committee, said the Morgan State audit was not considered critical enough to warrant a legislative hearing.

"What they found at Morgan was not as serious as what we find at some other agencies," Currie said.

Gerald W. Martz, director of state fiscal compliance audits, said the kinds of flaws found at Morgan State in some ways are typical of public colleges and universities, but he said the number was "more than average."

Pub Date: 1/08/99

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