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ISSUE 115 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/12/2002

Buntrock’s fraud can’t be hidden

By Julie Gunderson
News Editor

Friday, April 12, 2002

Somewhere between a Buntrock and a hard place is where St. Olaf College finds itself after accusations of fraud were levied against one of the schools biggest donors — founder and former Chairman of Waste Management Inc. Dean L. Buntrock.

Buntrock has denied the charges that he carried out fraudulent bookkeeping practices that inflated the company’s profits by $1.7 billion in order to meet target earnings and deceived shareholders while making lucrative profits.

This scam, alleged to have occurred during the 1990’s, is said to have netted Buntrock and five other company officials almost $29 million.

Buntrock is said to have pocketed the most, more than $16.9 million from bonuses, retirement benefits and selling company stock.

Although Buntrock has not been found guilty in a court of law, it can’t be good for a school’s reputation when the Securities and Exchange Commission is calling one of your most high-profile alums "the driving force behind the fraud."

There’s no rock that the school can hide under, with a $26 million student center, bearing Buntrock’s name, standing in the center of the campus and ironically connected to the heart and soul of the St. Olaf community — Boe Chapel.

In the court of public opinion, Buntrock’s name has already been dragged through the mud and St. Olaf’s has followed right behind.

School officials maintain that the $26 million gift to St. Olaf was personally from Buntrock and it was not connected with Waste Management Inc. But trying to wash its hands from the mess is not a good road for the school to take.

What kind of message is the school sending its current students who frequent the Buntrock student center daily? The message that it’s okay to graduate, go out, become driving forces of fraud, and get rich, and by the way don’t forget to write the school a check. The school’s non-committal approach to the subject can be construed as the school giving its approval to such behavior.

St. Olaf needs to restore its integrity by taking the high road. If Buntrock is found guilty, ethics would call for the school to give back the tainted donation, though economics make this unrealistic. The school is in no financial position to forfeit Buntrock’s money.

However, the school is in a position to send a strong moral message to its alums, future donors, and current students. Stripping Buntrock’s name off the building named in his honor is suitable punishment.

For one thing, taking Buntrock’s name away would make campus tour guides perspire a little less when the parents of prospective students question them about our corrupt donor.

More than that though, it would show moral leadership by this school of the church. Taking action, instead of sitting back and hoping the whole thing just blows over, is a much better move for the St. Olaf image.

St. Olaf is certainly not the first educational institution to run into problems with donors. The University of Houston is experiencing a similar crisis with former Enron Corp. CEO Kenneth Lay. However, the university plans to retain the academic positions endowed with Lay’s soiled name.

In 1987, Augsburg College in Minneapolis accepted a $500,000 contribution from an alumnus who notoriously preached the politically incorrect messages of racial and religious separation. The school, well aware of the donor’s offensive messages, chose to keep the money anyway.

St. Olaf should not become another school just accepting the improprieties of its contributors. If stripping Buntrock’s name off the student center isn’t enough, maybe the school should look into centering its curriculum on business ethics.

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