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Faculty group 'troubled' by 'lack of procedure' on Hagerott report

FILE PHOTO: Chancellor Mark Hagerott of the North Dakota University System. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — A group of North Dakota university faculty members were "troubled" that members of the State Board of Higher Education hadn't seen a report criticizing the chancellor's leadership before voting to extend his contract, the organization said this week.

The Council of College Faculties sent a letter to higher education leaders Tuesday, Oct. 3, regarding the June 2016 staff survey report on University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott. The report included accusations of gender bias and said the chancellor had a "militaristic" management style while displaying "inappropriate or unprofessional speech or behavior."

Hagerott denied that he favored men over women but said he has made changes in response to the report. He has requested an investigation into what he said were political attempts to influence his office and a subsequent "defamatory campaign" against him.

The letter signed by CCF President Debora Dragseth, a Dickinson State University professor, points to a "lack of procedure" that's "evidenced through the failure to distribute" the report. The council raised concerns that State Board of Higher Education members, other than then-chairwoman Kathleen Neset, didn't "receive this critical information in a timely manner."

"This report, dated three days prior to the discussion of the chancellor's evaluation (June 29, 2016) and prior to the renewal of his contract (June 27, 2017), was consequently not a part of the discourse regarding Chancellor Hagerott's job performance," the letter said.

The higher education board voted unanimously in June to extend Hagerott's contract for one year, to June 30, 2019. Last week, the board rejected a motion in a tie vote to hold a special meeting to discuss the chancellor's contract in light of potential litigation.

The council's letter was addressed to Hagerott as well as State Board of Higher Education Chairman Don Morton and Vice Chairman Greg Stemen.

"We felt that (it) would have been more transparent for the board members to have all the information available to them before they made any decisions on the chancellor's work," Dragseth said in an interview.

In an email to Dragseth on Friday, Morton said the report "was an informational item meant to provide input into the evaluation process, and as such would not normally be distributed to other board members." He said Neset asked compliance officer Karol Riedman to "informally survey NDUS system office staff to collect input that could be helpful in preparing the evaluation and making recommendations."

In an interview, Morton said he had also seen the Riedman report, but confirmed other board members had not. He was vice chairman at the time it was written.

"We try to be careful when we're talking personnel. We all deserve a certain amount of privacy," Morton said. "Kathy and I spent ... all of the last academic year meeting with the university system staff, meeting with them individually and in groups, meeting with Mark, and we were really pleased. Mark was very responsive to our feedback."

Morton said they're in the process of conducting a formal climate survey of university system staff that will result in a report to be distributed to board members, office staff and "all interested parties." He hopes it will be completed by the Nov. 30 board meeting.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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