Chico State professor under investigation for alleged misuse of university funds


Rayanne Painter

Curtis DeBerg’s office door in Tehama Hall is left blank next to SAGE Global memorabilia. A plaque in honor of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company founder Ken Grossman is visible. It reads “SAGE commends the Ken Grossman/Katie Gonser Family for its commitment to helping teens create socially responsible businesses that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

The nonprofit organization Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship (SAGE Global) is not active on Chico State’s campus since the start of the Spring 2020 semester following an internal investigation into the organization’s CEO, accounting professor Curtis DeBerg. 

On Aug. 24, 2018, the CSU Chancellor’s Office informed Chico State’s administration that a full investigation was launched regarding DeBerg, SAGE Global and their involvement on campus due to allegations that were brought by administration.

After this investigation, the chancellor’s office released a report claiming DeBerg:

  • Had a conflict of Interest
  • Misused Instructionally Related Activities Funds, Travel Expenses, Work-Study Funds
  • Misused Study of the United States Institute Grant Funds
  • Falsified Invoices
  • Violated Campus Policy Regarding Faculty Profits on Course Materials

Discoveries from the investigation, according to the report, claim that DeBerg “misused the campus’ name and other resources to promote and operate his nonprofit business … falsified invoices in an attempt to receive reimbursement for expenses for which he did not have proper documentation and increased students’ pay in a way that obfuscated the true purpose of the expenditure.” 

Additionally, the investigation claims DeBerg required students to buy his own CoursePass that cost $89.95 or else they would be administratively disenrolled from the course.

The campus, as a part of their response to the reported discoveries, is working on implementing different policies and requirements.

“The campus is in the process of responding to the recommendations from the chancellor’s office investigative report released Nov. 6, 2019,”  Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Debra Larson said. “This report has given us the opportunity to review facts and evaluate the effectiveness of our internal policies and procedures.” 

The response from the campus includes the decisions to “evaluate the appropriateness of the role of SAGE Global in activities that involve students or campus or foundation funds,” and “rename the SAGE student group to differentiate it from SAGE Global.” 

The campus will also “require (DeBerg) to stop selling his CoursePass materials. Further, revise the policy governing faculty profits on course materials and communicate the changes to all faculty.”

DeBerg gave a comment to The Orion regarding this situation.

“SAGE has been an important part of the College of Business since Fall 2002,” DeBerg said. “The program has brought local, national and global recognition to our campus under the umbrella of community service-learning, K-12 outreach, public-private partnerships, global awareness and social entrepreneurship. Prior administrations have recognized and rewarded SAGE and me, for our work; The current administration obviously prefers it be discontinued, mainly citing conflict of interest concerns.”

DeBerg is not on campus this semester and the university did not discuss his status. Currently, the university is working on a series of actions, along with DeBerg to move forward with the situation and investigation. 

“The university takes very seriously the commitment to act as loyal fiscal stewards to the state and to our students,” Larson said. “It’s essential to remind the campus community about their fiscal responsibilities, and how responsible fiscal stewardship is critical to our mission and the public’s confidence.”

Angelina Mendez and Jessie Imhoff can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @theorion_angie and @JessieReports

Corrected on 2/25/20: Corrections were made regarding SAGE Global’s involvement on campus.