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Former Center for Innovation leader rebuts claims state lawmaker was 'targeted'

A former Center for Innovation leader said she was never approached by current state Rep. Emily O'Brien about her claims that she was a "targeted" employee while working at the Center after being elected to the state Legislature.

A former Center for Innovation leader said she was never approached by current state Rep. Emily O'Brien about her claims that she was a "targeted" employee while working at the Center after being elected to the state Legislature.

O'Brien, a Republican state representative from Grand Forks, wrote a letter to the State Board of Higher Education last month calling for the board not to renew UND President Mark Kennedy's contract. She also asked the board to consider dismissing Kennedy and Provost Thomas DiLorenzo.

The board later unanimously renewed Kennedy's contract through June 2020.

In the letter, O'Brien claimed she was a "targeted" employee after beating out Democrat Kylie Oversen for a seat in the state Legislature in 2016. O'Brien claimed that continued after she returned from session in May 2017.

O'Brien also said legislators do not have a "good working or constructive relationship" with Kennedy or DiLorenzo, and "many citizens" in the district and throughout the community do not feel appreciated by the UND administration.


O'Brien worked at UND for seven years as a student and began her professional career in the school's Center for Innovation. She decided to leave her post in December 2017; her last day was Jan. 31, 2018.

Laurie Betting, who directed the facility from May 2017 to October 2017, said she was "surprised" to learn O'Brien's "take" on how things were at the Center for Innovation, noting the center was going through a time of transition then but did not believe O'Brien had been treated differently in any kind of way while Betting was there.

"I can't point out that she was, in any way, treated any different than anyone else in that situation, which was 'what does our future look like and how do we all contribute to that vision?'" Betting said.

When asked if Betting felt O'Brien had been treated any differently because of her political affiliation, as she had written in her letter, Betting said: "None. Zero. Not at all."

Betting said she worked closely with staff and had an "open-door" policy. She said she encouraged people to come and talk to her about any questions or comments that they had.

Betting said she has had a "good" experience with DiLorenzo. She said the provost would take in information and then would ask a lot of questions about various topics.

"I think that's important in that role because there's no way that anyone managing the portfolio that he does and the complexity of what he has to deal with can know all things," she said.

DiLorenzo also has a "good sense of humor," Betting claims.


In the letter, O'Brien claimed the provost had asked her, in a demeaning tone, "So, what do you even do here?"

Betting said she "could see him saying that" but in a more "light-hearted" manner in order to truly get to know what O'Brien's role was.

If someone walks into a situation like that,-where they already feel tense and targeted-then it is possible for the person to take the comment differently, Betting said.

There are many processes in place for employees to go through if they do feel attacked or targeted in any way. Betting said O'Brien had never come to her making claims described in the letter.

"If I had, at any time, heard that she was in that situation or felt that she was in that situation, I would've addressed it, and I didn't," she said. "It was a bit of a surprise that that comes out at this time, in this manner."

In a phone interview with the Herald earlier this month, O'Brien said she wanted to share her story multiple times in the past, but she feared retaliation from UND leaders.

"I thought it was important that if I could prevent other people from being treated the way that I was that it was important for me to speak my part," O'Brien said.

O'Brien did not respond to requests for comments on this story.


The situation is under investigation by the state board. Kennedy said the university encouraged the board to investigate O'Brien's claims. The university plans to be fully cooperative, he said.

To Kennedy's knowledge, there are no other university officials involved in the matter, he said in a phone interview earlier this month. He also said no university employees have been suspended or placed on leave.

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