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Our view: Leadership flaws are the chief concern with chancellor

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott.

Herald editorial board

Let’s assume North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott did not fire Vice Chancellor Lisa Feldner just to insert a fellow Navy veteran in her position.

In the court of public opinion, that is one of the charges leveled against Hagerott, who last month removed Feldner from office “without cause,” as is allowed by North Dakota law.

Further, we believe Hagerott was right for not publicly censuring or reprimanding former UND President Ed Schafer for Schafer’s endorsement of candidate, now governor, Doug Burgum prior to the 2016 Republican primary election. When Schafer, a former governor who was serving as interim president at UND, made that endorsement, it went against tradition -- but not law -- and caused a political ripple in the state. Hagerott says he resisted political pressure to levy some sort of punishment against Schafer.

All of that is relevant now as Hagerott faces a wave of criticism for firing Feldner, inserting fellow Navy veteran James Wisecup in her place, and then claiming the fallout from doing so is related to his decision to not discipline Schafer back in June of 2016.

But again, move past all that.

The biggest problem we see with this controversy is with Hagerott’s alleged leadership flaws. Specifically, we refer to verbal discussions between Hagerott and the Board of Higher Education around the time of his evaluation, in August of 2016. He said leadership was a topic of discussion.

Although most of Hagerott’s professional troubles are based on actions last month (the firing of Feldner) or in June 2016 (the failure to censure Schafer), we are troubled by questions about his leadership abilities.

If he does lack leadership qualities, it is startling -- and puzzling.

Hagerott has asked for an investigation into what he describes as political attempts to sway and besmirch him, but the board has not approved it. Perhaps they feel as we do: That the Feldner and Schafer incidents are the past and that Hagerott’s alleged leadership shortcomings will be, and must be, the future.

Hagerott is the head of the university system of North Dakota and he earns $372,000 per year. He is a former Navy captain who oversees all of the state university presidents and therefore thousands of subordinate staff members at lower levels.

To learn he may have leadership shortcomings is the issue that needs more attention than any of the others.

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