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WCC’s Conflict of Interest policy doesn’t protect anyone

Recently, I’ve been writing about the dangers of not having a strong Conflict of Interest (COI) policy. A conflict-of-interest issue arose that affects the Rancho Santiago Community College District retirees. The problem is not small, and it’s not merely a nuisance. The result of not having a strong COI policy is that the RSCCD retirees will now pay substantially higher Medicare premiums for the rest of their lives, and they will not have the health care in retirement that for decades their college had promised them.

The retirees will be (and some already have been) saddled with costly healthcare expenses that Medicare does not cover. This happened because the CFO had developed a hidden financial relationship (which included regular high-value gifts) with an insurance provider. Over time, the CFO transferred all of the college’s insurance policies to this provider without following either RSCCD’s competitive bidding policies or its weak conflict of interest policies.

I did a quick survey of Michigan’s community colleges. From the table below, you’ll see that most community colleges have a published conflict of interest policy that applies to college employees, its trustees or both. Half of the institutions also have explicit prohibitions on college employees accepting gifts, and require annual disclosures of any relationships with businesses. As is standard with COI policies, the disclosures also apply to family member involvement with vendors who do (or hope to do) business with the institution.

WCC’s COI policy has not even been reviewed since George W. Bush’s first term in office. Further, the policy applies narrowly to college administrators. It excludes the Trustees, and there is no explicit prohibition on the solicitation or acceptance of gifts or private gain.

WCC needs a strong Conflict of Interest policy

This weak, incomplete conflict of interest policy is wholly unacceptable. The fact that the Trustees (who can’t be bothered to write or update their own policy manual) have excluded themselves from adhering to a COI policy is a huge red flag. There is no reason to open the door to this kind of abuse of the public trust.

The Trustees must immediately review and amend the Conflict of Interest policy to include comprehensive prohibitions on the solicitation and acceptance of gifts of any value by all employees. They must apply the same policy to themselves in their capacities as Trustees of the college. And they must implement a strong annual disclosure policy and accompanying processes. It is ridiculous that even the smallest of Michigan’s community colleges have these policies and practices in place, and WCC, which is one of the best publicly funded community colleges in the State has a COI policy that hasn’t been updated since before Facebook was founded.

Community College Gift Policy
Alpena Community College No
Bay de Noc Community College Yes
Delta College Yes
Glen Oaks Community College
Gogebic Community College Yes
Grand Rapids Community College Yes
Henry Ford College Yes
Jackson College Yes
Kalamazoo Valley Community College No
Kellogg Community College Yes
Kirtland Community College Yes
Lake Michigan College Yes
Lansing Community College Yes
Macomb Community College No
Mid-Michigan Community College No
Monroe County Community College Yes
Montcalm Community College Yes
Mott Community College Yes
Muskegon Community College Yes
North Central Michigan College No
Northwestern Michigan College Yes
Oakland Community College Yes
Saint Clair County Community College
Schoolcraft College
Southwestern Michigan College Unknown
Wayne County Community College District No
Washtenaw Community College No
West Shore Community College No

Photo Credit: GPA Photo Archives , via Flickr