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Higher ed board tweaks chancellor evaluation process

After the top executive North Dakota University System was hit with labor allegations, the governing board that oversees him is revamping his evaluation process.

But an update of those changes presented at the Thursday meeting of the State Board of Higher Education makes it seem unlikely they will be much of a departure from status quo. Board member and former Chair Kathleen Neset shared some recommendations of the SBHE Governance Committee that could guide the next evaluation of NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott. Her presentation is an answer to an issue that's been open question since the board voted last summer to extend Hagerott's contract.

Just months after they did so, the chancellor was hit with labor allegations made against him by Lisa Feldner, a former system vice chancellor and Hagerott's former chief of staff. Feldner, who filed claims with the State Department of Labor and Human Rights not long after Hagerott fired her in September, has claimed the chancellor practiced discriminatory, sexist behavior in the system office.

Feldner's allegations surfaced with an internal office climate study that painted an unflattering portrait of Hagerott as a leader of the NDUS staff. That study, which had been quietly set in motion by Neset and current Board Chair Don Morton, found that all staff members surveyed felt Hagerott treated men better than women, with some describing the chancellor as erratic and militaristic. The document was not made available to board members by the time they voted to extend Hagerott's contract. As chair, Neset gave the chancellor a mostly positive evaluation and did not mention the study.

The apparent secrecy of the study was a point some members questioned after the document appeared in media reports. Hagerott survived a push at the September SBHE meeting to reopen discussion of his extended contract when a vote to do so ended with a split.

Since then, Nick Hacker and Mike Ness, two of the board members who voted in favor of reopening the contract, have been serving with Neset on the Governance Committee to tweak the chancellor evaluation process.

The sum of their work doesn't seem likely to provide any dramatic shifts from the board's current system by which its members review the chancellor. Neset said the committee's recommendations include coming up with a set of goals to present to Hagerott to guide his performance. From there, she said, the board could go through those goals and give the chancellor a rating and some input on his work toward making progress through them, as well as his work overall.

Neset said there would be a numerical scale for rating Hagerott's work, as well as space for comments. The evaluation as a whole would not be conducted anonymously and would still be conducted in the "public realm," she added.

NDUS staff would still have an opportunity to provide input, Neset said, and board members could gather their own information. The board chair would then use the results to take a recommendation on how to proceed with the chancellor's contract in the June meeting of the SBHE.

After Neset's presentation, board Chair Morton said the retooling was intended to provide a "constructive" evaluation process for Hagerott.

"We want to have more robust feedback from the board and make the board very involved," Morton said, adding that "we don't want a 'gotcha.' We want constructive feedback that helps move the needle."

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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