North Dakota higher ed board members criticize Herald's Mayville State coverage

The letter was signed by Nick Hacker, outgoing board chair, Casey Ryan, the board’s new chair, and Kathleen Neset, who served her final meeting on the board this week.

Mayville State sign logo tower.jpg
Mayville State University in Mayville, N.D. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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Three members of North Dakota’s higher ed board have sent a letter to the Grand Forks Herald criticizing its coverage of the board’s Tuesday meeting regarding Mayville State President Brian Van Horn .

The letter was signed by Nick Hacker, outgoing board chair; Casey Ryan, the board’s new chair, and Kathleen Neset, who served her final meeting on the board this week.

During Tuesday’s meeting, a summary compliance report addressing multiple anonymous complaints filed against Van Horn was discussed. The four complaints, filed in May, deal with anonymous accusations of alleged inappropriate behavior toward female employees.

Neset said during the meeting that leaders couldn’t deal with the complaint because nobody put their name to it.

Neset said she wanted to “support our president” and added: “Basically, what we would like to do as a committee is encourage President Van Horn and all of our presidents to always maintain the highest level of professionalism and, always, you are a model for our students and our communities.”


The Herald characterized the comments as a “pointed reminder” to Van Horn and other system presidents against bad behavior.

The letter sent to Herald editors on Wednesday, June 30, contended that Neset’s comments were made in support of Van Horn and unfairly compared the anonymous reports with a report that was completed more than a year ago. The Herald has been conducting a months-long investigation into the campus climate and Van Horn’s time on the campus, and that investigative reporting was mentioned in Tuesday’s story.

“We feel that the reporter did not understand nor attempt to understand the context of the Audit report Member Kathleen Neset was speaking about during the meeting,” the letter said.

The letter goes on to say that during an interview with Van Horn on Tuesday, the president offered the compliance report through the NDUS open records process. The letter claims the reporter didn’t follow up to obtain the report, which had been finalized the day before, Monday, June 28.

The Herald sent a request for the compliance report just before 9 a.m. Wednesday but did not receive the compliance report until Thursday morning.

After the story was published on Tuesday, Neset called to “give clear context to the words she spoke.” When she spoke with the reporter, Sam Easter, the letter said she found him “argumentative and rude.” When Easter did ask for further clarification, the letter claims he was “unwilling to discuss with her the intent and clear support of President Van Horn.”

“We found the story one-sided and not in line with journalistic culture that we have become accustomed to from the Herald,” it stated. “We all stand in support of President Van Horn and Mayville State University.”

In response to the letter from the board members, Easter said he found the statement “disheartening,” adding the letter “appeared to misunderstand the story that the Herald published this week” and claimed it “grossly misrepresented” the conversation he had with Neset that day.


Easter said he listened to her thoughts, and “asked her how she could amplify an anonymous complaint in an open meeting, go on to ask for good behavior, and consider it nothing but a message of ‘support.’ ” He said he also asked her “why, if she was strictly hoping to support Van Horn, she said anything at all to remind presidents about good behavior.”

Easter says he offered to have the story updated and the opportunity to discuss the matter with a Herald editor. He said Neset declined both of these offers.

Neset spoke to the Herald Friday morning and said she felt she kept her side of the conversation professional with the reporter. As she is no longer a board member, Neset deferred most comment to Ryan and Hacker.

Korrie Wenzel, publisher of the Herald, said Neset “stresses that she supports the state's university presidents,” adding “that's OK.”

“It's important to mention that her support was noted in the story, not once but twice.”

Wenzel added that Neset mentioned during a public meeting that all presidents, and specifically Van Horn, should maintain their professionalism.

“A reporter's refusal to change his our – perception of what occurred during a public meeting doesn't mean he's rude or argumentative,” Wenzel said. “In fact, this statement sent by the board actually gives us the opportunity to show our readers the things that sometimes happen behind the scenes as news is gathered.”

Wenzel added he wasn’t on the call. Hacker, who remains on the board but served his final meeting as chair on Tuesday, told the Herald on Thursday that he was also not on the call and had, at least at that time, not discussed the call directly with Neset. He said he signed the letter because he had heard Neset’s comments during the board meeting on Tuesday and believed the Herald’s reporting took Neset’s comments out of context.


“I know the context in which she was saying (the comments), and I know what your reporter wrote. And those don't correlate,” Hacker said.

Ryan said he discussed the call with Neset and that Neset said the reporter was rude and was talking over her.

“People need to be good listeners,” he said. “Kathy Neset’s got pretty good, thick skin. So it had to be pretty out of bounds to get to that level.”

“Kathleen and the board members support NDUS staff. I support reporters,” Wenzel said. “Now we've all declared it. In the end, this is just extending the story, which is probably the last thing the board intends.”

Easter said he hopes to “work in good faith” with sources, “even when they are openly frustrated with me."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
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