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UW report questions $5.3M in transactions between campuses, foundations

Patty Murray

Wisconsin Public Radio

University of Wisconsin officials released a report Wednesday that shows about $5.3 million in questionable transactions between campuses and their private foundations.

The review came after the University of Wisconsin System found out former UW-Oshkosh officials had been illegally transferring money into the school's private foundation.

Former chancellor Richard Wells and former vice chancellor Thomas Sonnleitner are being sued by the system for allegedly funneling $11.3 million into the foundation for construction projects. The money was used to build two bio-digesters, an alumni welcome center, a hotel and a sports complex.

According to the UW System, the $11.3 million in transactions were illegal uses of university funds.

In a news release issued Wednesday, UW System President Ray Cross said, "The UW System has taken significant steps to improve transparency related to foundation transactions, while maintaining the important relationship between the UW and its affiliated foundations which support our universities and students." He added, "Foundations provide student scholarships, fund academic programs and research, and help the UW System develop the learning facilities needed for student success."

Cross said foundational partnerships need to "remain beyond reproach."

The System review looked at more than 2,000 transactions worth more than $36 million between campuses and their foundations between 2010 and 2017. During that time, roughly $5.3 million in questionable spending occurred and required additional analysis.

The report did turn up a "questionable" transaction of $183,805 at UW-La Crosse that used foundation money to helped fund a Hall of Honor at the school’s football stadium.

No questionable transactions were found at UW-Superior.

“We found all of the institution’s transactions to be appropriate and the documentation was complete,” according to UW-System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis.

UW-Oshkosh’s Foundation is privately run and has filed for federal bankruptcy. 

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