FARGO — North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani plans to step down after higher education leaders did not give him a two-year contract, despite doing so for other state university and college presidents.
State Board of Higher Education Chair Nick Hacker announced during a Tuesday, June 29, meeting that Bresciani would leave the position in 2022. The NDSU president plans to take on a tenured professor position in health sciences and education.
The board approved a contract to keep Bresciani on until December 2022, while other presidents who qualified for two-year contracts were approved through June 2023. Bresciani's contract will not be renewed for 2023.
No one said during Tuesday's meeting why Bresciani was leaving his post. The announcement of his departure was made after the board held a closed-door session on contract renewals for state university and college presidents.
Hacker said the move was a transition. He said Bresciani was not fired, adding that the board would have to approve a nonrenewal of his contract if that was the case.
Had the board not taken action, Bresciani's tenure would have ended in June 2022, Hacker said. Instead, he was given a six-month extension.
Hacker declined to say why Bresciani was not given a full two-year contract.
NDSU spokeswoman Brynn Rawlings and Bresciani did not respond to phone and email messages for this article.
Bresciani was first hired as the school’s president in 2010. Before that, he was vice president for student affairs at Texas A&M University, as well as a professor in the department of educational administration there.
He led staff as NDSU completed construction on the Aldevron Tower and Sanford Health Athletic Complex. He's also overseen the school through the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was the president as the NDSU football team clinched eight national championships.
One of his legacies was pushing for more students to live on campus, sometimes coming at odds with state leaders. After Gov. Doug Burgum called for more online education and innovation in 2017, Bresciani emphasized the importance of brick-and-mortar campuses.
Bresciani wanted to expand NDSU's student population to 18,000. The school saw unprecedented growth before his tenure, from 10,000 in 2000 to about 14,400 in 2010.
That growth slowed during the first four years of Bresciani's tenure. The student population peaked in 2014 at 14,747 before dropping to 12,846 last fall.
He also faced calls by faculty, staff and students to improve the campus' climate when it came to diversity and racism.
Last year, Bresciani announced the school would issue a land acknowledgment statement to recognize the school sat on land once occupied by Native Americans. He said NDSU would create a diversity council, celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day and relocate Grandmother Earth's Gift of Life Garden, which “honors and connects the campus to Indigenous cultures and lifeways.”
Advocacy groups and students called on NDSU to act against racism in December after an apparent white supremacist group cropped up on campus. Protesters also demanded a change in hate speech policy after several students shared racist social media posts, including one that mocked the death of George Floyd.
Bresciani described plans of action in December that would include updates to the code of conduct, requiring students to take culture and diversity training and investigations into incidents involving racist rhetoric on campus.
The NDSU Faculty Senate censured him after he hired Margaret Fitzgerald to be the university's provost in October. Fitzgerald served in the post on an interim basis but did not apply for the position.
After announcing that none of the finalists in a nationwide search “garnered sure, strong and broad-based support from the campus or the committee," Bresciani elected to appoint Fitzgerald as the permanent provost. Faculty criticized the move, saying she was not put through an interview process.
Bresciani defended his decision by saying Fitzgerald proved herself as a leader when she oversaw the Provost's Office during the pandemic. NDSU needed a strong leader to guide the university through challenging times, he said.
Student engagement, as well as business and industry relationships, were high priorities for Bresciani, Hacker said.
"He's provided, in my mind, some really phenomenal leadership in stabilizing NDSU's financial picture, has led the effort to meet record fundraising," Hacker said. "We are talking dollar amounts that we have never seen in the system."
The State Board of Higher Education is expected to select a new president, but the timeline for that is unclear.