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DSU students demand resignation of university president, VPAA and dean

Nearly 300 people are demanding the immediate termination or resignation of the university president, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Dickinson State University for what they say is a broad spectrum of concerns with administration. They highlight allegations of code of conduct abuses, including overreach of administrative authority, incompetence and allegations of illegal conduct and fraud.

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DSU students demand resignation of university president, VPAA and Dean. (Dickinson Press File Photo)
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Students in Dickinson are demanding the termination or resignation of Dr. Stephen Easton, Dr. Debora Dragseth and Dr. Brent Rogers.

A petition created by Dickinson State University student Stephanie Schendel, which has garnered 266 signatures as of the time of this initial publication, seeks to "restore the integrity to Dickinson State University and its programming" that students say has been seriously weakened under the present administration through overreach of administrative authority, incompetence and fraud.

"We, the undersigned, demand the resignation or termination of President Stephen Easton, VPAA Dr. Debora Dragseth and Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Brent Rogers," the petition begins. "President Easton and Dr. Dragseth have continually tried to excuse their mismanagement of personnel and resources by citing 'increases in student enrollment' as evidence that their management style is effective...Unfortunately, this is not the case. This petition seeks to remove the façade that has been put in place by President Easton and Dr. Dragseth, remove them from the positions they have been abusing, and restore integrity to Dickinson State University and its programming."

Dickinson State University President Steve Easton. (Dickinson Press file photo)

The students' petition outlines alleged violations of the North Dakota University System Code of Conduct, violations of the Assumed Practices of the Higher Learning Commission, procurement fraud, grant fraud, abuse, overreach of administrative authority, failure to perform essential duties related to job descriptions and incompetence by three of the highest ranking administrators.

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"The student body pays tuition, many of us going into long-term debt to do so. As such, we expect a certain level of professionalism and quality of services rendered. We find that everywhere we look at DSU, except with matters concerning administration. There is no honesty or transparency to be found," the petition reads. "We have been told repeatedly by the above-mentioned administrators that 'they are working on it', 'there is not any plan to cut majors at this time' and that there is no reason for us to transfer to complete our programming. These assertions alone are evidence of the dire situation we find ourselves in. It is highly unlikely that this information is factual. There are a number of degree programs with incomplete programming due to faculty losses, resulting in well over one hundred students unable to complete necessary credits for on-time graduation."

Dr. Debora Dragseth, Vice President of Academic Affairs for Dickinson State University. (Dickinson Press file photo)

Within the Natural Science Department alone, four professors have tendered their resignations — Eric Brevik, Corrine Brevik, Joshua Steffan and Paul Barnhart. This includes the department chair, Barnhart, which leaves a single tenured professor remaining. But the concerns extend beyond the sciences. Multiple surveys of Dickinson State University faculty and staff have rendered concerning results. A survey of workplace satisfaction featuring 70 responses from 28 staff and 42 faculty showed 63% of respondents were unsatisfied with the administration . Allegations of misconduct extend beyond student complaints with multiple faculty members painting a broad spectrum of abuses, including a toxic, retaliatory and predatory work environment, rife with mismanagement and a "good ol' boys" top-down leadership system.

Speaking to The Press on the condition of anonymity, one former faculty member outlined internal issues with administration.

“Part of the issue is that it's unfortunate that by being honest we’re worried about retribution. The administration used a global pandemic that has killed millions of people to utilize state and federal money to push the university in a direction no one other than the administration wants," they said. "We have no shared governance on this campus. If there was shared governance, what I’m doing right now in even speaking to you wouldn’t potentially affect me for years to come. Right? Ultimately, their goal is to become the University of Phoenix, where everybody is online. Does that model make more money for the institution? Probably. But our students are not going to be successful under that model."

They continued, "There’s no getting around it, DSU is the red headed step-child of the NDUS system. What was it about 10 years ago when we were in the diploma mill? We’re going straight back to that and the students see it and are worried."

Details surrounding the petition emerged late in the afternoon and into the evening, resulting in an after-hours request for comment from Dickinson State University administration. The Press did not have a response as of this publication.

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