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Former aerospace dean had a 'tumultuous' relationship with UND provost

A 125 foot tall glass tower is the focal point of Robin Hall Aerospace building at UND. File photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

A former dean of UND's John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences on Tuesday described his previous relationship with Provost Thomas DiLorenzo as "tumultuous" and says he agrees with a no-confidence resolution signed by staff at the school.

The comment from Bruce A. Smith comes almost two weeks after the aviation department, one of the largest programs on campus, voted 32-0 in favor of the resolution. Two staff members abstained from voting on the resolution.

The resolution urges UND President Mark Kennedy to remove DiLorenzo from his position as provost. Kennedy has since said he plans to keep DiLorenzo in place. The resolution claims DiLorenzo has "little if any concern" about the best interests of the department. 

Smith, who served as dean from 2000 to 2016 and now lives in Alabama, said he is "not surprised" by the faculty's vote.

"It's been something that's kind of been lurking in the background ever since the provost came on board," he told the Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday.

DiLorenzo became provost in 2013.

Smith submitted an unsolicited op-ed Viewpoint to the Herald, which can be found on Page A4 of today's edition, regarding the resolution and what he says was occasional friction between the Odegard school and the provost's office. That friction helped create the tumultuous relationship with the provost's office, Smith said.

After Smith submitted the Viewpoint, the Herald reached out for an interview.

Smith told the Herald the school is somewhat run as its own entity. The school does its own recruiting and has its own student services, among other things, which contributes to the success of the school.

Smith said there have been efforts to "centralize" student services and recruiting with the rest of the university. Each time it happened, Smith said he would refuse because part of the school's success is its autonomy.

He said there was a program to evaluate departments across the campus in a different way, involving people who did not have extensive knowledge of a particular department.

"Even all the right-minded people are not going to have the background to know what a distinct department does and what its value is to the university," Smith said, adding there was no way to appeal the process. That, he said, would subsequently create friction with the provost's office.

In his op-ed, Smith wrote that in order to be successful, the aviation department and flight operations need to "have a reasonable amount of trust and autonomy" because the school has a reputation of being the preeminent aviation college in the country.

Reached later, Kennedy said Tuesday that "if there is to be a trust and autonomy" between the Odegard school and the university, it should be done directly and not through the pages of the local newspaper. Kennedy said he is available to speak by phone and also that, if needed, his calendar can be cleared.

Kennedy also said he believes the university is "stronger together than apart."

"There's no doubt that every college needs to have a focus on their own direction, but there's also no question that every college is a part of the university," he said. "Our plan is called One UND for a reason. An overemphasis on autonomy and an underemphasis on One UND is not an optimum path for mutual communication and trust."

Smith said if he were still in the dean's position, he would handle the situation similarly to the current dean, Paul Lindseth, noting that Lindseth did not encourage the resolution.

"If the administration and the provost can step back and give the Odegard School the trust and autonomy that it needs to be successful and without trying to control it and without trying to centralize it ... that would be the resolution for this," Smith said.

Weekly meetings have been planned for the next several months with DiLorenzo, Lindseth and UND Vice President of Finance and Operations Jed Shivers. In addition, Kennedy has committed to meeting with aviation faculty members on a monthly basis.

"Scheduling meetings does not create communication," Smith said, noting that he had been through a series of similar meetings when he was at the school and said the meetings ended up being more informational than meaningful, problem-solving dialogue.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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