When William Cottrell, senior auditor for the Internal Audit Department of the University of New Mexico, left Taos last Friday afternoon after spending a good part of the past two months doing field work on an audit of UNM-Taos, his parting comment to Dennis Cruz, campus resource director, was that after auditing other UNM branch campuses, he was very impressed with the UNM-Taos operation.
An audit can be a lengthy and arduous bureaucratic process, particularly when involving big, statewide institutions. But it can produce a solid foundation of information to work from, particularly when there has been a change of leadership. That is why executive director Dr. Kate O’Neill and the advisory board of UNM-Taos jointly requested the audit after Dr. O’Neill’s appointment as permanent executive director on July 1, 2007.
“They do a pretty thorough analysis of what goes on,” Cruz explained. “Through questionnaires and personal interviews they examine our business operations, internal controls, information technology controls, purchasing policies and personnel issues. They examine our handling of credit cards used to purchase supplies, equipment and gas. They check our vehicle records—the sign up sheets for use of vehicles.
“But behind the scenes, since most of our records have to go through main campus, they have access to everything we do here in their data base. If they see a weakness or if they have a question, they will follow up on it.
“This is mostly a programmatic and compliance audit—a physical audit to see if we are complying with the policies and procedures of the university.
“Mr. Cottrell was impressed with the people in the departments he talked to. He did quite intensive interviews in information technology, business operations, grant and fundraising, student government, personnel policies, as well as with myself and Dr. O’Neill.”
Though cumbersome and at time painstaking, Cruz saw the process, which when completed will have taken the better part of a year, as well worth the effort:
“You know, a lot of people use the audit as a battering tool to batter their subordinates or their employees or whatever. We took the approach of using it as a management tool, trying to find out where our weaknesses are, where we can improve, and just present a good face to the community”
With the field work now complete, the Internal Audit Department will write up a report to present to the president of the university and the audit committee of the board of regents. After that it will be published online for public review, probably sometime this summer. According to Dr. O’Neill, it has to go through many steps and committees and be authorized at every point.
“It is a very thorough process, and that’s why it takes months to complete,” she said. “The auditors have access to whatever they want. They can come in and say they want to see files, they want to see timesheets, financial documents—whatever they want access to, they can get. But they have been very proactive and I want to thank them. I see this as a very good management tool and an opportunity for us to get some outside perspective.
“I wanted to make sure we had a clean slate when I was appointed director, and now every couple of years we will repeat the process. After the report is published, we will have to respond to any item of concern that they find, and then we will have to provide documentation that we have addressed those issues.
“Their approach is broad based. They look at everything from telecommunications systems to our passwords and security and file backups to how we keep sensitive information under lock and key. They look at our fundraising efforts. They look at the cashiering process at our bookstore. They examine a range of business and financial processes, time sheets, personnel issues, making sure people are recording their comp time accurately and documenting work hours similarly across departments. Remember that UNM is the seventh largest employer in the state, and we need to make certain the procedures that work in Albuquerque are tailored to meet the needs of Taos.
“The auditors see to it that we are implementing UNM policy accurately, and it looks pretty good so far. We are finding out that there are some procedures we could streamline and make more efficient, but for the most part it is looking very good. We are lucky enough to be a small town community college, and at the same time be a part of the state’s flagship university.
“I think we do an amazing amount with very few financial resources, and the primary reason we are able to do so much is that we have such incredible human resources—people who are working together as a team and dedicated to seeing this place be all that it can be.”
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
One final word: here is one thing the auditors can’t quantify: a warm and hearty thanks to The Great Chefs of Taos, who chose to make the UNM-Taos culinary arts program the recipient of this year’s fundraiser hosted by El Monte Sagrado on January 27.
Along with El Monte appreciation goes to John Roush of Southern Wines and Spirits, organizer of all the restaurants; Bravo, Trading Post, Chef Damon’s, Sabroso, Joseph’s Table and El Monte Sagrado Resort. Then there’s the faculty: Benji Apodaca, head of concurrent enrollment at the high school; Jerry Cornwell, Anna Eyre, Adam Medina, Leslie Pedlar and Jim Schlarbaum.
Schlarbaum, director of the culinary arts program at UNM-Taos, said that at least seventy people attended the $150.00 a plate, six course extravaganza.
“Have you ever noticed how success is contagious?” he asked. “I could see the quality of hospitality increasing in our community through events like this. It was great seeing high school students working side by side with the Great Chefs, and on behalf of Benji Apodaca and myself I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to them for recognizing what we are trying to accomplish within our program.”