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N.D. university system chancellor survives challenge to his contract in wake of controversies

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DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, barely escaped an attempt by some members of the State Board of Higher Education to scrutinize his contract at a time when his office is in turmoil.

In a deadlocked 4-4 vote on Thursday, Sept. 28, the board rejected a motion to hold a special meeting to discuss Hagerott’s contract in light of possible litigation.

Hagerott, whose management style came under criticism in a review last year, has asked for an investigation, claiming the criticism was fallout from a political controversy.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized Hagerott for not disciplining Ed Schafer, who last year served as interim president of the University of North Dakota, for endorsing Gov. Doug Burgum in the Republican primary race for governor in 2016. Also, Hagerott recently fired a vice chancellor, and some have argued the move was made so he could increase the salary of a former Navy colleague of Hagerott’s who had recently joined the chancellor’s staff.

The motion for a special meeting to review Hagerott’s contract came from member Mike Ness. “I’d like to call for a special meeting in the future,” to discuss Hagerott’s contract and the possibility of litigation in light of recent events.

Chairman Don Morton opposed the motion. “I would be against doing this,” Morton said, noting that the board had decided in June to extend Hagerott’s contract. “There’s no need to go back and revisit it.”

Ness’s motion, which needed a majority to pass, failed on a vote of 4-4. Ness, Nick Hacker, Casey Ryan and student member Jacob Dailey voted in favor of the motion. Morton, Vice Chairman Greg Stemen, Kathleen Neset and Kevin Melicher opposed it.

In the past, when the board has revisited the contract of a chancellor or campus president, the result has sometimes been a contract buyout to smooth the way for a departure.

Before the vote, Stemen read a statement, promising to discuss the controversies in the chancellor’s office in the future, “in a timely and more importantly well-prepared manner.”

Stemen said the board is obligated to address the issues, but said the board’s first obligation is to the North Dakota University System’s 46,000 students.

“The board is not driven by the media cycle,” Stemen said.

Later in the meeting, when Hagerott was presenting his updated goals, the board discussed revising review procedures for the chancellor.

Melicher said board members’ names should be attached to written comments about the chancellor, to exclude “rumor and innuendo.”

Ness complained that board members did not see Hagerott’s final evaluation, but also said he was concerned that some evaluations meant to be private could turn up in an open records request. He said he favored closed meeting discussions, “The way we do things now.”

Hagerott replied, “I certainly welcome that, sir.” The chancellor also said he welcomes reviews. “I’ve been evaluated and audited in my career for decades.”