Audit: Hoffner case shows MnSCU should rethink its investigations

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A new report from Minnesota's legislative auditor criticizes the investigative methods of the State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) after the botched firing of football coach Todd Hoffner.

The 19 page report released by Legislative Auditor James Nobles Thursday suggests MnSCU rethink how it handles investigations but takes no position on whether Minnesota State University, Mankato was justified in firing Hoffner last year.

Hoffner was reinstated as coach in April after an arbitrator ruled the university had no grounds to fire him.

The auditor says the investigation that led to Hoffner's dismissal was separate from child pornography allegations that were dismissed by a judge. The report from Nobles does not explain what allegations led to the university's investigation of Hoffner, citing data privacy concerns. But it says they involved violations of policy and/or concerns about Hoffner's judgment, not criminal acts.

Auditor questions investigative methods

Nobles' report notes that MSU Mankato's investigator interviewed people who were not under oath and did not record the interviews. But, as the Star Tribune points out, the auditor is particularly critical of the investigator for destroying her notes from the interviews after she had filed her report.

The newspaper highlights this section of the auditor's report:

“We bring the issue forth because investigative methods are important in ensuring fairness to all the people affected by an investigation, and because we found confusion and conflicts among the state officials we consulted about how interviews in personnel investigations are and should be conducted and documented. Given what we found, we recommend that [the school] reassess how it conducts and documents interviews in personnel [and possibly other] investigations.”

A representative of MnSCU told MPR News in an email “further assessment by the system of the approaches used is warranted to ensure that we are using best practices."

Response to audit

State legislators and MSU Mankato President Richard Davenport asked Nobles in April to review the handling of Hoffner's case.

The report Nobles submitted Thursday includes two letters responding to his findings. One is from Hoffner's attorney, Chris Madel, the other is co-signed by Davenport and MnSCU's chancellor.

Madel criticizes the report, saying it does not include Hoffner's perspective nor any tally of how much money the university spent investigating him.

The leaders of the university and MnSCU joined Nobles in expressing hope that the report provides some closure to everyone concerned.

Meanwhile, Hoffner is back on the sidelines, leading MSU through another successful football season. The Mavericks are undefeated and recently gained the top spot in a national poll ranking Division II teams.

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