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Barry Batcheller, West Fargo, N.D., letter: Committee judged Hanson's experience, not candor

By Barry Batcheller WEST FARGO, N.D. -- A recent Herald editorial requires a response ("Keep Hanson on list for NDSU president," Page D1, March 28). I offer this response, not in my capacity as a member of the North Dakota State University Presid...

By Barry Batcheller

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- A recent Herald editorial requires a response ("Keep Hanson on list for NDSU president," Page D1, March 28).

I offer this response, not in my capacity as a member of the North Dakota State University Presidential Search Committee, nor as the chairman of the NDSU Alumni Association nor as a member of the NDSU Research Park board of directors, but rather as a long-standing businessman in Fargo and as a private citizen and active member of that community.

The editorial claims that NDSU interim President Richard Hanson deserves to be a finalist "because Hanson has been upfront about NDSU's finances -- even though that decision made him the bearer of bad news. Even though he must have suspected that would hurt his standing on campus. And even though that, in turn, would hurt his prospects to win the presidency, as in fact it has.

"That kind of ethical leadership takes guts," the editorial continued. "It should be rewarded, not punished, by the board, to set an example for every president in the state."

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This statement reflects the Herald's opinion that the decision by the search committee not to advance interim President Richard Hanson as a candidate was a punitive reaction to his public statements regarding the financial condition of the university.

The deliberations of the committee are of public record and are regularly attended by the news media. As reported by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the sole reason that Hanson was not advanced was that the committee felt his experience and accomplishments did not place him within the pool of candidates who rated substantially higher in these areas.

He was not singled out, but rather was among a group of more than 20 other highly accomplished individuals who were similarly evaluated and similarly passed over.

The Herald editorial also states that "(former President Joseph) Chapman made NDSU feel good about itself. That was his genius, and his revved-up deans and department heads kicked the school up a notch. But that's not what's needed today."

I disagree. That's exactly what's needed today.

I came to North Dakota from New York more than 40 years ago to attend NDSU. Over the ensuing years, I have had the great good fortune to take part in the start-up and growth of a number of new businesses in the state, all of which still exist today and are providing good jobs in their communities.

I can say from both experience and observation that great accomplishment comes from great leadership, and that one of the characteristics of great leaders is their ability to enable organizations to feel good about themselves. Not by smoke and mirrors, as is implied in the Herald editorial, but by virtue of their own high achievement.

The selection of a new president for a major university is a serious business. In a situation where the university is in the midst of a storm, as is NDSU at this time, that responsibility is elevated.

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Without a doubt, NDSU's next president is going to have his or her hands full for a while, trimming the sails and battening the hatches. But the storm will pass, and the seas will calm, and the journey must continue.

What NDSU needs now is to hire the best experienced, seasoned leader available to work with the State Board of Higher Education to make sure that previous mistakes are not repeated; with the faculty and staff of the university to restore credibility and reestablish a sense of purpose and achievement; and with the students and community to provide direction and leadership.

Somewhere within the remaining pool of eight individuals under consideration for the presidency of NDSU, I believe that person resides.

That mistakes were made at the end of Chapman's term in office, there is no question; but exceptional organizations learn from their mistakes, make corrections and move on.

On this point I agree with the Herald when it states "The board should demand no less. The Legislature will demand no less."

Batcheller, a member of the NDSU Presidential Search Committee, is president and CEO of Appareo Systems of Fargo, a custom developer and manufacturer of aviation electronics systems. He is a 1977 graduate of NDSU.

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