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Mayville State complaints, concerns: How this story was produced

Here's a look at how the Herald pieced together a series of stories on Mayville State and its president.

We are part of The Trust Project.

The Story: At Mayville State University, complaints, concerns about President Brian Van Horn and campus culture stretch back years

This began with an anonymous tip in late August 2020. Our source was very broadly concerned about pandemic policies at North Dakota’s Mayville State University, and had some specific concerns about alleged misbehavior by the university president.

That early tip led us to one document after another that sketched out a long pattern of mistrust and alleged misbehavior linked to the MSU president. We reviewed the following:

  • A complaint lodged by a cabinet-level employee alleging the MSU president’s creation of a hostile work environment; plus, a subsequent report and investigator’s notes summarizing an internal investigation into that complaint
  • A report summarizing a separate internal investigation into claims of the MSU President’s sexual harassment of a subordinate
  • Hundreds of emails between university officials 
  • A survey of campus culture 
  • Annual reviews of the MSU President’s performance

The resulting story, linked above, ran nearly 4,000 words. It not only revealed a series of serious complaints about a university president, but questioned top state university system leaders on their continued support for him — as well as the apparent lack of mention of these issues in his official reviews. The result is a state that knows much more about the questionable decisions its leaders have made as they’ve overseen some of North Dakota’s marquee institutions.
Our series of stories:

Who we interviewed

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  • Beth Swenson , Mayville State spokesperson
  • Mark Hagerott , chancellor of the North Dakota University System
  • Casey Ryan , chair of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education
  • Billie Jo Lorius , spokesperson for the North Dakota University System
  • Allison Johnson, former MSU exec director of institutional effectiveness
  • Kathy Neset , member of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education

Documents we used to inform the story

You can check out the some of the documents we used to inform the story below.

Donald Vangsnes and Dean Schieve. "College Employee Satisfaction Survey" for Mayville State, evaluation report provided by the North Dakota University System. The report was written in January 2020. — This item sketches out campus culture concerns at the university dating back years

Satisfaction Survey written comments — This includes free responses from employees mad in the previous survey; many of them are extremely critical of university leadership

Allison Johnson letter. Submitted on Jan. 6, 2020 — This is a complaint lodged by a Mayville State University employee alleging a hostile work environment

NDUS Compliance report for Mayville State. Report by the North Dakota University System Compliance Office, including Karol Riedman. It was submitted on May 21, 2021  — This document is a hostile work environment internal report completed by the North Dakota University System compliance office.

These documents are notes and interview summaries used to create the hostile work environment internal report. Both note sets were compiled by the North Dakota University System's compliance office.

Summary investigation report on alleged code of conduct violations made against President Van Horn — This document is a report completed by the North Dakota University System's compliance office, including Riedman, and reviews anonymous complaints against the Mayville State president. It was published on June 24, 2021.

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Sam Easter is a freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
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