Hagerott requests investigation of alleged political pressure, "defamatory" campaign
BISMARCK -- North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott has called for a formal investigation of what he describes as a political attempt to influence his office in the most recent gubernatorial election as well as a subsequent campai...
BISMARCK -- North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott has called for a formal investigation of what he describes as a political attempt to influence his office in the most recent gubernatorial election as well as a subsequent campaign to “discredit my office and myself.”
Hagerott consulted an attorney Monday before making an official request for an independent investigation to the State Board of Higher Education, the NDUS governing body that he reports to. He specifically requested an investigation of the events of June 10, 2016 -- the day he says he met with senior staff and an NDUS attorney to consider whether to censure then-interim UND President Ed Schafer following Schafer’s public endorsement of governor candidate Doug Burgum ahead of the 2016 primary election.
He declined to provide his own account of the events he wants investigated other than saying certain parties attempted “to influence the office of the chancellor to influence the outcome of the primary election.” He also said in a statement to press that a formal inquiry “cannot be conducted” by the office of North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who was a Republican primary candidate for governor, “for reasons that will become apparent.” Instead, Hagerott requested a special assistant attorney general appointment and an investigation of the events by the SBHE.
By Monday night, a representative from the attorney general’s office responded to Hagerott’s request to tell him that the office could not provide the appointment to conduct an investigation.
As explanation, Troy Seibel, North Dakota chief deputy attorney general, wrote that special assistant attorneys general are appointed to provide legal advice to state entities and represent them in litigation -- not to investigate claims. Seibel recommended Hagerott consult with the SBHE to see how its members would like to proceed in the matter.
Though Hagerott didn’t describe specifics, he says he faced pressure to act against Schafer in that June 10 meeting from various parties, including from his senior staff, but ultimately decided against taking any punitive action against the interim president.
Hagerott believes that decision marked the starting point of a “defamatory campaign” against him, an effort he said included accusations of sexual harassment of NDUS staff. Those accusations resulted in an internal review of the chancellor’s leadership that produced an unflattering report filed June 26 to then-SBHE Chair Kathleen Neset.
The report surfaced last week after Hagerott fired former NDUS chief of staff and vice chancellor Lisa Feldner, “without cause.”
Without naming any specific instances, Hagerott said recent media reports have reflected an ongoing attempt coming from “multiple vectors” to paint him in a bad light as part of “retribution, score-settling, whatever -- against someone they couldn’t control or manipulate.”
Sitting SBHE Chair Don Morton said late Monday that he’d previously discussed with Hagerott the possibility of an investigation, but the two had not come to a final decision. Morton described the chancellor’s decision as “his prerogative” and said the board needed more information from Hagerott before determining how it would proceed.
“It’s not something that has to be decided today or tomorrow,” Morton said, adding that the board would meet with the chancellor in the “very near future” to discuss the issue.
Morton said the board supported the chancellor, including his decision to fire Feldner, and that “not quite appropriate” political pressure has cropped up before in the NDUS.
“It’s not like this is a rare case,” he said.
For now, Hagerott wants to see his own case examined more thoroughly to counter what he sees as disingenuous messaging.
“That’s why I need an investigation -- because of all the things being said and written in the press,” Hagerott said. “The people of North Dakota need a dispassionate, fact-based investigation of what’s been going on here.”
“Under oath, people will speak the truth,” he added.