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NDSU President Chapman to resign

FARGO -- Hours after North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman shocked the community with his Wednesday resignation notice, students on campus began planning a rally similar to the one three years ago that convinced him to stay.

Joseph Chapman
Joseph Chapman

FARGO -- Hours after North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman shocked the community with his Wednesday resignation notice, students on campus began planning a rally similar to the one three years ago that convinced him to stay.

Amber Altstadt, student body president, said Wednesday night that there was an outpouring of students stopping by her office asking for a rally, petition or other show of support for the 11-year leader.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said he was "devastated" by the news and called Chapman to try to change his mind.

"I've met few people that have the vision that he does," Walaker said. "He's the best thing that's happened to the university and community that I've seen in a long, long time."

Chapman spoke with North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz on Wednesday and, just before 3 p.m., publicly gave notice of his resignation effective Jan. 2, citing "recent controversies."


"Students have always been paramount, and I fear these distractions have impaired my ability to serve their interests," Chapman wrote in a resignation letter sent to the entire campus via e-mail.

Chapman, 67, received criticism in recent days when it came to light he had spent more than $22,000 in NDSU donations to take his family to President Barack Obama's January inauguration, when budgeted costs doubled to $2 million on the new president's house and when it was learned his wife was paid $50,000 a year for her role as a campus ambassador.

Chapman spoke only to The Associated Press on Wednesday, but plans to sit down with other members of the media today.

NDSU spokeswoman Najla Amundson said Chapman was not pressured by the state Board of Higher Education or others to resign.

"This was his decision; he and Gale's decision," Amundson said.

Goetz said Chapman raised the bar for university programs and research, but understood that some donors will think their money was being wasted.

"Under the circumstances, I think ... (Chapman) has made the right decision," Goetz said. "I think there was some discretion here that may have been lacking in terms of priorities, and that has led to these issues."

UND reaction


Asked if he was surprised his counterpart at NDSU would resign so suddenly, UND President Robert Kelley said he was.

"President Chapman is a superb strategic thinker, and I know that he has so much experience as a university president that I was a little surprised that, strategically, he would resign," Kelley said. "But having said that, I know Joe feels very strongly about his ability to work with students effectively. I know he was very concerned that the distractions of the last several days, I think, he felt negatively affected his ability to work with students."

Unlike the often rocky relationship Kelley's predecessor, Charles Kupchella, had with Chapman, Kelley's relationship with Chapman has been amicable.

Kelley said he and Chapman have been working on joint programs such as the master's in public health that would take advantage of NDSU's pharmacy school and UND's medical school.

"Joe and I have similar backgrounds professionally," Kelley said. "We're both biologists, both strong leaders. In that sense, it's very productive for me to get to know him."

Kelley said he'll continue to work with Chapman until the latter's departure in January. "We are working very hard to bring these two universities into partnership, so we will continue to do that."

Meeting today

The state Board of Higher Education will meet at 8 a.m. today via conference call to vote on whether to accept Chapman's resignation and to form a plan to appoint an interim leader.


Goetz expects members to accept Chapman's resignation. He said he hopes a new president will be hired by July 1.

Chapman is paid $424,000 in total compensation this year, including $75,000 in deferred compensation through donors giving to the NDSU Development Foundation.

His contract is through June 30, 2011. University system attorney Pat Seaworth said because Chapman resigned, his contract would not provide for compensation such as a severance payout.

Students were sad to hear the news, and many have a lot of questions about what caused his resignation, Altstadt said.

"I think people are confused exactly what happened and where things took the turn and when and how," she said.

Joe Heilman, NDSU's most recent student body president, said former student leaders are talking about coming back to campus if there is a rally.

'Don't Go Joe' is coming back," said Heilman, who was among the several hundred students who rallied for Chapman to stay in 2006 when he was a finalist for the University of Wyoming presidency.

Mark Meister, president of NDSU's University Senate, said faculty are disappointed with the lack of accountability in the Development Foundation.


Until recently, the foundation did not have a limit on the president's discretionary fund, which last year totaled $260,000.

"I think he got caught up in a game where people said he could do what he wanted," said Meister, associate professor of communication. "It's disappointing because I like him and I think he's done great things for the university."

John Q. Paulsen, former higher education board president and a past president of the NDSU Development Foundation board of trustees, called Chapman's resignation a "tragedy."

Chapman bears some responsibility for the $2 million president's house project, which board members authorized at $900,000, Paulsen said.

Growth over tenure

But Chapman's tenure should be remembered for the many ways he brought NDSU to the next level, including record enrollment growth, a move to Division I athletics, growth in research spending and graduate programs, Paulsen said.

"His leadership has had so much to do with what has truly been a remarkably positive 10-year period in the life of the university," said Paulsen, a member of the search committee that recommended hiring Chapman.

Athletic Director Gene Taylor said it's sad that Chapman's accomplishments have been overshadowed.


Chapman also was at the center of controversy in 2006 when former chancellor Robert Potts resigned. Potts said Chapman refused to accept his authority. Their conflict was rooted in a debate over an equity funding bill.

Chapman also clashed at times with UND's Kupchella, and critics said the two universities were too competitive.

Since Kelley took office more than a year ago, many have acknowledged the stronger effort toward collaboration.

Walaker said he hopes Chapman can be convinced to stay, but he fears Chapman's mind may be made up.

"It's going to take a tremendous amount of encouragement from students, faculty and the people of North Dakota to get him to stay," Walaker said.

Richie Smith, president of the higher education board, said he thinks the controversies will pale in comparison to Chapman's accomplishments.

"Anybody coming in is going to have big shoes to fill," Smith said. "I hope we don't rue the day."

Herald Staff Writer Tu-Uyen Tran contributed to this report, as did The Associated Press.


The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Resignation letter
Chapman's resignation letter to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, dated today, reads:

Chancellor William Goetz

State Board of Higher Education

10th Floor, State Capitol

600 East Boulevard Avenue, Dept. 215

Bismarck, ND 58505-0230

Dear Chancellor Goetz,

I am writing to tender my resignation as President of North Dakota State University effective January 2, 2010.

Serving as president of North Dakota State University for the past 11 years has been the greatest privilege of my academic career. Together with students, faculty and staff, we have taken this institution to new levels, and I take great pride in all we have accomplished together. Gale and I have made friends and community ties here we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Controversies in recent days have created distractions that have made it impossible for me to provide the leadership this institution deserves. Students have always been paramount, and I fear these distractions have impaired my ability to serve their interests.

I strongly urge you and the State Board of Higher Education to commission a comprehensive and independent audit of the president's residence project to protect the integrity of the institution.

I have full confidence NDSU will continue to thrive and contribute to the prosperity of North Dakota well into the future.


Joseph A. Chapman


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