The state legislative auditor says the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system should rethink how it conducts and documents investigations following its firing of Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner.

James Noble’s report released Thursday takes no stance on the dismissal of Hoffner, whose firing came after a court dropped child pornography charges against him. He’d had videos of his naked children on a work phone.

But it notes that a Minnesota State University – Mankato investigator conducted interviews that were not under oath and were not recorded. It also says she destroyed her interview notes after presenting her report to university leaders.

“We were surprised by what the investigator told us, because she described an investigative process and protocols that contrast dramatically” with those followed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor, the report states.

But it adds that after consulting officials in the state Attorney General’s Office and state Department of Management and Budget, the office “found divided opinion on what does and should occur in personnel investigations.”

In an emailed statement, a MnSCU spokesperson agreed that “further assessment by the system of the approaches used is warranted to ensure that we are using best practices. We believe strongly that the fairness of investigation procedures is important to all involved in both the investigation and decision making processes.”

Hoffner’s attorney, Chris Madel, criticized the report, saying it didn’t provide enough detail for a full understanding of what happened.

In a letter at the end of the report, he called it a “hollow, partial recitation of the parties’ beliefs regarding how MSU Mankato treated Coach Hoffner.”

Hoffner was charged in 2012 with two child pornography counts after he recorded videos of his children dancing naked. A judge found they were innocent, and dismissed the charges.

Despite that ruling, the university fired Hoffner in 2013 for reasons it didn’t disclose.

After an arbitrator ruled in April that the university had no grounds to fire Hoffner, the university reinstated him as coach.

Lawmakers and MnSCU leaders then asked Nobles to look into the process the university used leading up to Hoffner’s firing.

Nobles’ report says Mankato President Richard Davenport fired Hoffner based on the university’s investigation into other allegations – ones beyond the child pornography charges.

The report does not list the allegations because of “data privacy considerations.” It says they did not involve a criminal act, but instead “involved either alleged violations of MnSCU policies and/or a concern about Coach Hoffner’s judgment.”

Although it questions the university investigator’s lack of notes and recorded sworn testimony, the report says it sees no connection between that and the state arbitrator’s decision to order Hoffner’s reinstatement.

“We bring the issue forth,” it states, “because investigative methods are important in ensuring fairness to all the people affected by the investigation, and because we found confusion and conflicts among the state officials we consulted about how interviews in personnel investigations are and should be conducted and documented.”

Madel, Hoffner’s attorney, says in his letter that he disputes the university’s account of events. He says the report doesn’t include Hoffner’s perspective of the investigation, and doesn’t go into the amount of money the university and MnSCU spent on the Hoffner case.

Without an analysis of their fiscal responsibility, Madel writes, “there can be no assessment by the Legislature of MSU Mankato and MnSCU’s effectiveness, let alone an assessment of how to promote effectiveness.”

Read the legislative auditor’s report:


Update: Kim Olson, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system’s chief marketing and communication officer, told me this evening that today’s announcement of a unanimous “no confidence” vote in MnSCU chancellor Steven Rosenstone by Winona State University faculty comes a bit out of the blue.

She wrote:

Although Chancellor Steven Rosenstone meets regularly with Inter Faculty Organization (IFO) leadership, we have not been formally contacted by any Winona faculty about a vote of “no confidence” or to discuss any concerns that would lead to a vote of this kind.  The WSU Faculty Association Senate is composed of approximately 28 faculty members (out of 18,000 MnSCU faculty and staff) on one of MnSCU’s 54 campuses. We’ve been in touch with the IFO’s state leadership and have been told it’s a local issue. News like this is always concerning, however, it will not distract from serving our students, their communities and the state of Minnesota.

According to a late-afternoon press release by Faculty Association President Darrell Downs, members voted unanimously, citing “a recurring pattern of secrecy in MnSCU decision making regarding the hiring of private consultants, questionable spending decisions by the System Office, and an unwillingness to incorporate greater student and faculty input into long term planning.”

Downs has been a public critic of Rosenstone’s plan to overhaul the way the system does business, saying it centralized power too much.

His announcement today states:

Faculty Senator, Bruce Svingen noted “Three years is too long to wait for the Chancellor to recognize that campus students, faculty, and staff need to be involved at the ground level of higher education decisions.”

It is the view of the Faculty Senate that WSU’s strength is in providing an excellent education to its students and serving its varied communities.  However pursuing a costly long-term planning agenda without sufficient public funding dedicated to that purpose and without fully transparent decision making unnecessarily jeopardizes this university.

WSU Faculty Association President, Darrell Downs, said “he had hoped that the Chancellor’s management style would provide more openness and more directly engage students and faculty in long term planning.”

This vote of “no confidence” in the leadership of the Chancellor sends a message to the Chancellor, as well as to the MnSCU Board of Trustees, that WSU’s distinctive mission in higher education is best preserved though open and fully transparent decision making led by students, faculty, and staff.