Public due full facts on NCCU bungle

North Carolinians have ample reason to take pride in North Carolina Central University in Durham. The historically black university has a respected law school and does a vigorous job of reaching out to students who might otherwise not attend college.

Yet that record is tarnished by a maverick decision to set up a satellite campus in an Atlanta church run by an alumnus, campus trustee and generous donor. This miscue (to put it nicely) happened during the tenure of former chancellor James Ammons, who has taken responsibility for it, but not explained precisely how it happened.

The public deserves an open, detailed explanation of how and why state resources were diverted to serve those in another state, how this initiative dodged UNC system scrutiny and who was responsible. The initiative took place under the administration of a former University of North Carolina system president. But it's up to current UNC system President Erskine Bowles to investigate fully and provide an accounting for taxpayers – along with assurance this kind of nonsense will not happen again.

For four years, NCCU offered bachelor's degree programs in hospitality and tourism, criminal justice and business administration at a sprawling Lithonia, Ga., megachurch run by Eddie Long, an NCCU trustee since 2002 and a 1976 alumnus.

The facts are murky. Mr. Ammons said Mr. Long did not ask him to set up the satellite campus. Mr. Long, who recently donated $1 million to the university, has made no public comments except to say he hoped the program could be saved.

Those circumstances raise automatic questions of impropriety. What's more, the university failed to vet the program through its own board of trustees or – as required – have it authorized through the UNC system Board of Governors.

Mr. Ammons said he “assumed” that happened. That's not acceptable.

Anyone should have known better than to start a North Carolina public university program for students in another state housed in a church run by a supporter and appointed policy-maker for the campus. A chancellor should have known better than to encourage it – and certainly should have known the arrangement would require thorough, public airing by the UNC system.

This is a potentially damaging development for a university, and for North Carolina's university system, which taxpayers support generously.

The public is owed an explanation and assurance it won't happen again.