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UND terminates administrator following discrimination case

In an afternoon letter to the campus community on Tuesday, Sept. 14, Armacost announced that it is in the “best interest of the university to part ways with Dr. Cara Halgren.” Halgren is the university’s vice president of student affairs. Plummer filed complaints against Halgren and Cassie Gerhardt, an associate dean of students and vice president of student affairs.

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UND President Andrew Armacost has fired one of the two administrators former UND Police Chief Eric Plummer claimed discriminated against him on the basis of his political beliefs.

In an afternoon letter to the campus community on Tuesday, Sept. 14, Armacost announced that it is in the “best interest of the university to part ways with Dr. Cara Halgren,” the university’s vice president of student affairs. Plummer filed complaints against Halgren and Cassie Gerhardt, an associate dean of students and vice president of student affairs.

Armacost’s email was brief and succinct, and did not elaborate on his decision to terminate Halgren. UND has begun the hiring process for an external interim vice president for student affairs, and the university will “immediately” begin a national search for a permanent replacement in that position. Armacost asked people not to wonder about his decision, but instead to focus on the future.

“Undoubtedly, this news will impact many people on our campus, and I ask that you refrain from speculating about this decision,” wrote Armacost. “It is important that we, as a community, continue to work together to move forward.”

It was unclear as of Tuesday evening if the decision was effective immediately.

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Plummer left his job in February shortly after filing complaints against Halgren and Gerhardt for discrimination and creating a hostile working environment over a period of four years, dating back to a conversation he had with Halgren in 2016.

That conversation, Plummer said, took place at the Northside Cafe. There, Halgren asked him who he voted for in the 2016 presidential election. According to the complaint, Plummer said the question made him feel uncomfortable, but he answered that he voted for former President Donald Trump.

After that, Plumber said Halgren and Gerhardt’s behavior toward him changed. In the complaint, Plummer said Halgren canceled regularly scheduled breakfast meetings with him, which he said damaged his relationship with UND student affairs. Their professional relationship continued to get worse, and Plummer said he was left out of an online meeting moderated by Gerhardt, and had to work in an increasingly confrontational environment.

In August, an administrative law judge dealing with the complaints found that Halgren discriminated against Plummer on the basis of his political beliefs. The same judge, Hope Hogen, found that Gerhardt did not harass Plummer or create a hostile working environment against him.

Halgren appealed the ruling against her, as did Plummer, over Gerhardt’s ruling.

When the Herald reached out to Plummer on Tuesday, he said the judge (it is not clear yet if the same judge heard the appeals) denied Halgren’s appeal, and that he was informed of the decision on Aug. 26. Plummer said he has not spoken with UND leadership over the appeal, but said the situation is unfortunate.

“Discrimination should not be tolerated in today’s society, and those who choose to engage in biased behavior based on differences, or perceived differences of others, should not be in public service,” Plummer said.

Meloney Linder, vice president of marketing and communications, said she had not seen the ruling denying the appeal against Halgren, and that she was not sure if Plummer's appeal of Gerhardt’s ruling had been returned by the judge.

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Halgren, when reached for comment, said she is thankful for people who reached out to her in the previous weeks, and that the situation left her feeling overwhelmed. She said she is proud of her time spent at UND.

“This has been both personally and professionally overwhelming and I will never be able to adequately express how much it has meant to me,” said Halgren. “Having been promoted from associate dean to dean and then from dean to vice president, I am proud of my 15-plus years of service to UND and stand by my record of treating people impartially. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served an institution that has given me so much as both a student and employee.”

Plummer accepted a similar role at Radford University in Radford, Va., in February.

On Aug. 3, UND named Rodney Clark as its next chief of police and associate vice president of public safety.

Eric Plummer photo.jpg
Eric Plummer. (Photo provided by UND)

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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