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UND keeps International Programs director after discord

Ray Lagasse said he enjoys being the director of International Programs at UND and will continue to work in that position. But over the last couple of months, that job was in jeopardy. Lagasse, who has overseen the department for 12 years, was to...

Ray Lagasse

Ray Lagasse said he enjoys being the director of International Programs at UND and will continue to work in that position.

But over the last couple of months, that job was in jeopardy.

Lagasse, who has overseen the department for 12 years, was told March 31 with a memo obtained by the Herald he would be out of a job.

Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Sandra Mitchell wrote his position was considered a "special appointment" and would not be renewed because "UND is in the process of reorganizing the office of International Programs and searching for a Senior International Officer to lead the office." She noted he was welcome to apply for the position.

Lagasse refuted the decision with an April 30 response letter, citing the UND Faculty Handbook, which states special appointments such as his can't be renewed for more than three years in a row.


"...the position should have been terminated or reclassified to a permanent status in 2001, two years before I started at UND and three years before I was appointed to the position," Lagasse said in the letter.

Lagasse met with Provost Thomas DiLorenzo and Mitchell prior to May 5. Since then, his position has been reclassified into the appropriate category. He will continue to oversee International Programs while the university looks at restructuring the mission and makeup of the department, with or without a high level administor at the helm.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said it makes sense to reclassify Lagasse’s position as staff, and the reason it hadn’t been that way before was simply an oversight.

“If you've been in a position for a while, whatever it is, … there's probably not a lot of looking back to connect the dots,” he said.

Lagasse had been involved in conversations about restructuring with Mitchell, but she said she didn’t know if it was clear in those interactions that his position was going to be eliminated.

Lagasse said he is relieved to stay at UND, but the experience left his office feeling uncertain.

"It raised a lot of questions in my mind as to why they were moving so quickly and why our office was not involved in any of that process," he said. "If the university is moving ahead and restructuring, well, I think the people that are directly affected by the restructuring should be involved in the conversation and we were not.”

Missions and goals UND joined an American Council on Education Internationalization initiative in 2014, which Johnson said spurred conversations about reworking International Programs.


“We don't have a go-to place right now for all things international,” he said.

Mitchell said she’s excited about the program’s future and that Lagasse agreed with her about the need for redefining its mission and structure.

“I'm really excited about the opportunity to bring more international diversity to campus and to better serve our international students and scholars,” she said. “That has been the purpose of all of our discussions about restructuring."

Lagasse said he has enjoyed watching the program change during his tenure. He said when he took the reins 12 years ago students with foreign accents would be sent to his office without anyone stopping to find out what they actually needed.

“That has changed tremendously,” he said.

Lagasse now helps international students with legal paperwork and oversees study-abroad opportunities with about 25 institutions worldwide.

Moving forward, he said the university should look at internationalization across the entire school by incorporating it into courses because “every major has an international component.”

But Lagasse said he is also a little uneasy. He said he wasn’t told he’ll be involved with continued restructuring but hopes he will be.


"At the same time, there's an uncertainty because if the administration chooses at a particular point ‘We’re going to move ahead with a senior international officer,’ chances are my position could be eliminated at that time," he said. “It could be a year from now, it could be six months from now. Who knows?”

A need for change A report, also obtained by the Herald, dated Feb. 28, 2014, shows Lagasse’s supervisor at the time felt the program needed to make improvements.

Lagasse reported to DiLorenzo through Associate Provost Julie Anderson. While she commended some of the office’s accomplishments, Anderson wrote the Office of International Programs needed to make more of an effort to collaborate with the rest of campus and the UND Alumni Association and Foundation.

“(The office) can best be described as ‘carrying on as usual,’ and a need for leadership is very apparent,” she wrote. “There is a lack of creativity, innovation and broad partnership collaboration with the broader university.”

She also wrote progress was slow regarding the assessment of academic programing, which had been pending for more than a year, and said more leadership was needed concerning the program’s budget.

Lagasse’s most recent 2015 evaluation report did not have any supervisor comments, but he wrote he had met several goals, including achieving broader involvement on campus through cultural events and a conference.

Lagasse currently makes $86,993 annually, not including benefits.

Lagasse said he has mixed feelings but was glad the university is trying to identify where to go with internationalization.



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