Darton State College Interim President Paul Jones said he is serious about rebuilding a culture of compliance at the college, which was the subject of an audit in 2013 that revealed deficiencies in a number of areas. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)
Darton State College President Paul Jones addresses regents audit report
Darton State College President Paul Jones fields questions Friday on Wednesday's report regarding audit concerns in several areas at the Albany college.
ALBANY — It’s been said that it takes serious people to solve serious problems, and Darton State College Interim President Paul Jones is a very serious person.
Wednesday afternoon, albanyherald.com first reported the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents had released an audit of Darton that cited six areas of “material” concern dealing with issues ranging from not properly keeping track of the academic progress (SAP) of students receiving federal financial aid to improper use of grant money.
Darton State College athletics will feel a financial pinch after the audit CLICK HERE.
Jones was the senior vice president for finance and administration and a professor of educational administration at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville before he replaced former President Peter Sireno in late October. In a Friday morning interview, Jones said he knew what he was getting into.
“I understood there was an audit being conducted by the Board of Regents,” Jones said. “I was also aware of the SACS challenges that we had. Certainly I needed some time to understand what those challenges were and I’ve spent the last two months learning exactly what those issues are.
“I had to hit the ground running; there was no transition time for me. I hope you and others understand that. I was doing all right where I was, but I am excited and humbled by the opportunity to come here and serve during these challenging times.”
In many ways, the college may have been fortunate that the regents only conducted a “limited scope audit” during its investigation, which began last June and ended in September. Jones would not speculate on whether the limited audit was just a warning shot from the state.
“I don’t know. When I look at the items that are listed (in the audit), there are a number of different concerns. My guess is this the BOR may have seen some other challenges there around the SAP process,” Jones said. “I don’t know if they were aware of any other issues prior to that.
“I think the BOR has asked the state to pay more attention to that particular issue because of the extraordinary compliance concerns. We, as institutions of higher education, have been made more aware that we need to focus on our controls in regard to financial aid.”
What is clear, however, is that the college has work to do in regard to compliance issues.
“What I do understand more than anything is that I am aware that we need to build our compliance infrastructure, and when we don’t have some of these areas present on our campus, it subjects us to some risk-management issues,” Jones said. “So, it is important as we move forward to build that infrastructure to ensure that we are in full compliance whether that is an internal audit, a legal presence, appropriate human resources, re-examining our policies and procedures.”
Jones added that implementing proper controls was key to solving the college’s compliance mechanisms.
“I think one of the reasons I may be here is because of my background in finance and administration,” Jones said. “I’ve done this before at Georgia College, and I think I have a unique set of skills having served in the finance area, having served in the enrollment management area and having overseen financial aid for almost 15 plus years.
“I have a unique set of skills to help us work through these challenges. I think I have a better understand of the kind of controls that must be put in place. We’ve already started to move those things forward.”
Jones said he spent his first two months in town at many listening sessions with faculty, staff and students to better understand the campus culture and to find out what those groups perceived as being some of college’s challenges.
“I think one of the ways in which we can learn about what’s going at the institution is to talk to the people who are in the trenches,” he said. “That was probably the most important thing I could have done.
“That’s where I have begun to learn about how we have been leading the institution. I am in a better position now to understand where there are some additional challenges we may have.”
In addition, Jones is looking to change the culture at the college
“During these listening sessions we talked a lot about transparency, and I think the campus has a greater appreciation for me doing that. I want them to make sure they understand we do want to hear their voices,” Jones said. “I told the folks that if you are aware of issues and challenges we may be having as an institution and you are not reporting those things, you are in fact just as guilty of that issue as the person who may be causing it.
“I think they they understand that now because people are beginning to talk to me, they are not shy about sharing with me now because I think I have opened the door.”
Jones is also aware that he cannot overcome the challenges and issues facing the institution by himself, even if he is a very serious man.
“I try to make myself visible. I do walk-arounds so that people can stop me at any point and time. We are trying to build a culture of shared governance. I think there is some excitement about that,” he said. “It’s going to take more than interim President Paul Jones to overcome these challenges, it’s going to take the entire campus.
“We are going to fix these issues because Southwest Georgia really needs us.”