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UND's Buning receives low marks

The UND athletic department employees have spoken, and their voice comes through loud and clear. They aren't happy with athletic director Tom Buning's leadership. On a scale of 1 to 7 with 7 being the best, athletic director Buning was given an a...

The UND athletic department employees have spoken, and their voice comes through loud and clear.

They aren't happy with athletic director Tom Buning's leadership.

On a scale of 1 to 7 with 7 being the best, athletic director Buning was given an average overall performance rating of 2.14 from athletic department personnel, including an average score of 2.7 from head coaches, according to a university survey obtained by the Herald on Wednesday afternoon.

The university announced Monday that Buning is taking a leave of absence from the school. That followed a weekend of speculation that he would be fired or resign.

The survey asked coaches and staff whether they strongly agreed or strongly disagreed with the athletic director on 46 questions. The surveys were distributed by UND administration. Phil Harmeson, UND's vice president of general administration, became Buning's boss in July.


Betty Ralston and Steve Brekke were named co-acting athletic directors at UND on Tuesday. Ralston and Brekke were named by Harmeson.

The surveys, which were titled "review of the athletic director," were unsigned, so all responses are anonymous except for a checkoff box that indicates the person's title. Asked why the survey was done, Harmeson said in a Saturday interview that he wanted to get a "scan of what's going on" in the department.

Harmeson could not be reached for comment on the survey Wednesday.

"We need an athletic director who understands athletics," one head coach said in the survey. "Our current director does not understand athletics."

Another head coach said: "At this point in time, I have zero confidence and zero trust in our athletic director. In my opinion, the working environment is becoming worse and is extremely dysfunctional.

"I have major concerns about the athletic department's ability to make the move to D-I with our current leadership."

Forty-five employees returned surveys, including at least 13 head coaches. Forty-three athletic department employees answered the question on overall performance. Two gave an answer of "did not know" or offered no opinion.

"He is enthusiastic about Sioux athletics and this university," an assistant coach said of Buning in the survey. "He is a great face for the athletic department. And can be seen at every home contest."


Some of the employees said Buning needs to stop doing pushups at Sioux football games, because the department is about athletes and not the athletic director.

On the question whether the athletic director demonstrates a strong commitment to the implementation of the move to Division I, Buning received higher marks. He received an average score of 4.7 out of 7. Coaches gave him a 4.9 out of 7 in the category. UND is in an exploratory year in its move to NCAA Division I. The school will become Division I in all sports beginning next fall.

In a question about effectiveness and efficiency in handling administrative functions, Buning was given an average rating of 2.36 out of 7. Forty-one of the 45 respondents answered the question. Head coaches gave Buning an average rating of 2.66 out of 7 in the category.

"Leadership begins with trust and loyalty, and the athletic director and his staff demonstrate neither," one department employee said in the survey.

Respondents were asked about their frequency of contact with Buning. Of 13 head coaches who responded, five said their contact with the athletic director was monthly or less frequent.

UND coaches and athletic department staff members were notified of Buning's leave of absence by e-mail Monday afternoon. School officials have not released a timetable as to the length of Buning's leave, and they have not specified a reason for the sudden announcement.

UND's athletic director since July 1, 2005, Buning has not been available for comment.

Over the weekend, there was speculation that a change in athletic department leadership was about to take place. But Harmeson said Saturday that Buning was not fired.


Staff and coaches were notified of Brekke and Ralston being named co-acting athletic directors at a Tuesday afternoon meeting at the Memorial Union.

Ralston has been associate athletic director for internal operations-senior woman administrator at UND since August 2005. She held positions as women's volleyball coach and administrator at NCAA Division I Eastern Illinois prior to coming to UND.

Brekke, the director of athletic development at UND, is a former Sioux all-North Central Conference basketball player and a member of the UND Athletic Hall of Fame.

Buning has made some tough decisions regarding the budget. UND's athletic department closed out its last fiscal year "in the black," Harmeson said.

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