Audit report examines student safety and learning outcomes

Christina Toroyan

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CSUN is taking steps to resolve recommendations on an off-campus activities audit from the Chancellor’s Office.

“An audit determines whether a campus is in compliance with the executive orders issued by the Chancellor’s Office,” said Jerry Luedders, assistant provost. “It is a way for the Chancellor’s Office to determine whether it is providing a clear guidance to the campus.”

During the last quarter in 2008, the Office of the University Auditor conducted a system-wide risk assessment.

According to the audit, at its January 2009 meeting, the Board of Trustees decided off-campus activities be reviewed as part of a risk assessment strategy.

Off-campus activities refer to internships, field trips, community engagement, service learning as well as study abroad and exchange programs.

The Chancellor’s Office placed executive orders regarding the establishment of off-campus activities into effect in 2000 after former California Gov. Gray Davis required all public higher education institution students to engage in some type of community service, according to the audit.

“The Executive Order, Community Service: Responding to the Governor’s Call,” required campus presidents to ensure that all students have opportunities to participate in community service and service learning, according to the audit.  There have been some revisions to this executive order.

“With as many executive orders as there are superseding others, it is difficult to keep track on campus,” Luedders said. “The Chancellor’s Office may see a dig that a geology class performs in an area of East San Fernando as field work and we may see it as an internship, for example.”

Internships and field trips were the only areas in the Executive Order not given specific instruction as  to what it may include or exclude, but rather, leaving it to the respective campuses to decide.

The audit committee visited CSUN from July 2009 to September 2009.  The committee’s study revealed the campus did not uphold adequate internal control over the off-campus activities. The departments used in the audit were chosen at random.

The auditors looked at how the campus tracks the different off-campus activities, how they are safe and if the students are learning, which is what CSUN needed to work on, Luedders said.

“We respond to the recommendations and the Chancellor’s Office accepts or denies our responses,” said Howard Lutwak, the director of internal audit. “The Chancellor’s Office will then request evidence of corrective actions for most of our findings.”

According to the audit, at CSUN, the vice president for academic affairs oversees the Center for Innovative and Engaged Learning Opportunities (CIELO), the International and Exchange Student Center, the Career Center, and the various departments’ field trip activities.

The vice president for administration oversees Risk Management and Purchasing and Contracts. In addition, the vice president for student affairs oversees the Matador Involvement Center.

The audit committee had specific objectives in studying the off-campus activities on campus.

Among them were whether “the policies, procedure and standard forms of the off-campus activities are current and comprehensive and aligned with relevant federal and state laws/regulations and CSU directives,” “data backup procedures are in place” and “internal controls in service learning, community service, academic internships, field trips, study abroad and exchange programs operate as intended,” according to the audit.

The committee reviewed and tested “identification of risks and implementation of risk mitigation measures for service learning, community service, academic internships, field trips, study abroad, and student exchange programs,” “involvement with volunteer initiatives” and “field trip notifications and procedures.”

Luedders said CSUN had an issue with risk management.

“The mindset of the campus is one that tries hard to support engagement and fieldwork and we provide a lot of opportunities for that,” Luedders said. “Our problems were in reporting activities and not keeping records.”

Cynthia Rawitch, the associate vice president of undergraduate studies, said the recommendations for the campus were in regards to record keeping and making more information of off-campus activities available to the students.

“We need to have a system to track student participation better, get contact information for them when they’re off campus and have more information available to students prior to internships or field trips to see if they really want to partake in it and know what is required of them,” Rawitch said. “It’s all about information and orientation.”

A few of the ways the campus is taking initiatives to resolve the recommendations will be to provide more orientations for off-campus activities, have information available online, train for experience, visiting the site and record keeping, Rawitch said.

“We try to look at the university’s functioning to provide the least risk with the best outcome,” Luedders said.

Luedders and Rawitch said the campus is looking into the creation of software to track where students are in an internship. It will track where the internship is and if the student has been going to the internship. The charge of this will be minimal.

“The rules were in existence for some time, it just wasn’t being applied consistently,” Rawitch said.

The recommendations for the internship category are still in the process of completion, due to it being so broad, Rawitch said. The other five areas of recommendations have been completed.

“Our response to the recommendations was to make sure student experiences are aware of what they are doing and if they are safe, because a lot of it deals with risk,” Rawitch said. “Students need to know about their off-campus activities before they get there, so they have to make a judgment call on the site to see if they want to take it or not.”