An in-house article on the Master’s University website — addressing conflict-of-interest concerns over a $180,000 contract awarded to a company owned by the university president’s son-in-law — raised eyebrows on campus and across the state this week; but university heads said it’s all part of an ongoing up-front pledge for transparency.
Brian Harr, the university’s communication director, wrote an article published Thursday titled, “An Inside Perspective on Kory Welch,” who served as the university’s chief operating officer in July, and is the son-in-law of university President John MacArthur.
Harr began his lengthy “inside perspective” — posted on the university’s website — noting right up front: “This article aims to shed light on his role at the school.”
The impetus for the article was concerns raised about university finances and leadership by officials at the Western Association of Schools and College and Universities Commission.
The Master’s University was placed on probation by the commission this past summer.
In August, one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States formally notified The Master’s University its accreditation is on probation, following a report questioning the college’s board independence, personnel and management practices, operational integrity and leadership.
The commission imposed the sanction of probation after its review team visited TMU in March.
“The motivation for the article was an exercise in transparency,” Harr said Friday. “I plan to write a series of pieces addressing some of the issues.”
University heads attended a meeting Friday morning, emerging with all members on board about being up-front and candid about finances.
“This is just the beginning,” University Provost John Stead said after the meeting, noting issues raised by the commission can be traced back to a breakdown of communication inside the university.
“We took some real hits on our culture,” he said. “It’s been a tough road, but we’re really turning a corner.
“Probation is not on the whole institution,” Stead said. “It had to do with board oversight.”
Harr, who has a 30-year history as a journalist, wrote in his online article that challenges presented themselves two years ago, when the university grappled with declining enrolment.
In a bid to turn things around and pump up sagging enrolment, leadership at the university sought to make marketing and branding of the school its top priority.
Enter Kory Welch as the man for the job.
Harr wrote: “Since graduating from Master’s in 1998, Welch has spent a majority of his professional career working with organizations large and small to address marketing, branding and operational issues.
“It was because of that experience he was brought in to work at TMU,” he wrote.
In scrutinizing that working relationship, however, the commission noted, as Harr pointed out: “A conflict of interest between Welch’s graphics company, WeKreative Design Group, and TMU. That company was on contract with TMU prior to Welch’s arrival on campus to do any consulting work.”
Welch said Friday that he was grateful for Harr’s story and welcomes further scrutiny.
“Long before I had a relationship with the president (MacArthur), I’ve had a relationship with the school since the late ‘80s,” he said, noting he is one of five brothers who all went through TMU.
The contract awarded his graphic company is now work awarded through a competitive bid process, Welch said.
“We’ve always tried to make sure that we remain transparent,” he said.
About the branding work that still needs to be done — especially since Masters went from being a college to a university — he said it is an ongoing process.