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Faculty letter questions handling of Hagerott report

FILE PHOTO: Chancellor Mark Hagerott of the North Dakota University System. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

A group of North Dakota University System faculty has issued a letter of "concern regarding a lack of procedure" surrounding a critical review of system Chancellor Mark Hagerott.

Members of the Council of College Faculties unanimously agreed Tuesday to draft the letter stating there was a "failure to distribute" properly the results of a June 2016 staff survey of Hagerott's leadership following an incident in which the chancellor allegedly overreacted to an open records request probing claims of political pressure on his office during last year's primary election.

The survey, conducted by NDUS compliance officer Karol Riedman, gathered details from employees who worked under Hagerott about the chancellor's leadership beyond that particular incident. Many of the comments submitted to Riedman were unflattering to Hagerott's management, with some likening him to a militaristic, "bull in a china shop" figure who showed preference toward male employees. Hagerott has since denied that gender-based characterization and has called for a formal investigation of the alleged political pressure he was facing at the time of the records request.

In the council's letter, which was signed by organization president and Dickinson State University professor Debora Dragseth, the faculty express concerns the survey wasn't adequately shared with SBHE members ahead of their decision earlier this summer to renew Hagerott's contract.

"The Council is troubled that the SBHE members (other than the Chair) did not receive this

critical information in a timely manner," the council wrote. "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."

Dragseth was quick to note in an interview that the council's letter was based in procedural concerns, not in the decision itself to extend Hagerott's contract. The first time many saw the June 2016 survey, she added, was when it was published by media outlets.

"We're not saying as a council what the decision should have been," she said. "We're just saying when these decisions were made, in lieu of transparency, all information should have been available."

The council's letter was addressed to Hagerott himself, plus SBHE Chair Don Morton and Vice Chair Greg Stemen. Morton responded Friday to the faculty to assert that the board did indeed follow procedure when evaluating Hagerott in 2016. Morton said the NDUS staff survey was an informal study conducted at the request of former SBHE Chair Kathy Neset.

"In following the Chair Person's request, Ms. Riedman was not conducting an investigation nor writing a compliance report," Morton said. As such, he wrote, the resulting document "would not normally be distributed to other Board members."

Though he pushed back against the procedural concerns, Morton did not put the matter entirely to rest.

"We are in the process of conducting a formal climate survey of the NDUS office staff, which will result in a formal survey report," he said. That report will be made available to SBHE members as well as office staff, the Council of College Faculties and any other interested parties.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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