MATTERS AT HAND: Loss for NDSU creates an opportunity for North Dakota

Poor, unlucky Joe Chapman. He built a $2 million house and won't get to stay in it. Lucky NDSU. As its president for almost 11 years, Chapman provided exceptional leadership that propelled the institution forward. He challenged the campus to reac...

Poor, unlucky Joe Chapman.

He built a $2 million house and won't get to stay in it.

Lucky NDSU.

As its president for almost 11 years, Chapman provided exceptional leadership that propelled the institution forward. He challenged the campus to reach the next level, and mostly, it did.

Enrollment leapt ahead, setting records for 10 consecutive years, every year of Chapman's presidency. Programs expanded. The campus grew into downtown Fargo, helping transform the heart of North Dakota's largest city. Athletics flourished, notably moving into Division I, defeating Minnesota in football and winning a spot in the NCAA basketball tournament in its first year of eligibility.


Not everybody was happy.

Faculty grumbled that salaries lagged while money went into new programs. The university drew national attention for its lack of women faculty.

But when Chapman suggested he might take another job, students held rallies urging him to stay. Until the state Board of Higher Education accepted his resignation Thursday morning, there was talk of new rallies with the same purpose.

So, lucky Joe Chapman. He earned and deserves the support and respect of his colleagues.

Unlucky UND.

Chapman aimed his competitive juices directly at the state's oldest -- and its largest -- research institution. He exposed and exploited every weakness at UND, from hesitant leadership to faltering programs.

He couldn't do anything about the age of the institution, but he reduced UND to second in enrollment. He also poached many of its programs without regard to guidelines established by the state university system, to cost or to obvious duplication of services in a small state.

So North Dakota is unlucky, too. The state is left short of its announced intention to build a unified higher education system reporting to a single board and chancellor, with campuses augmenting, supplementing and supporting one another.


Instead, it has rival institutions hardly an hour apart offering similar programs and competing for the same pool of students.

Unlucky Bob Potts and unlucky Eddie Dunn, two chancellors who clashed with Chapman and lost their jobs.

But North Dakota is lucky, too. The intense competition forced each institution to look outside the region for new students, and this increased the diversity of student bodies throughout the state, helping open North Dakota to new perspectives and preparing it for a new era of global reach.

And lucky North Dakotans, to have media outlets that were not intimidated either by Chapman's well-earned prestige or his unjustified bluster.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, sister paper of the Herald, did yeoman work in tracking Chapman's spending. Radio talk show hosts followed (though there were the usual apologists).

From this reporting, North Dakotans learned of Chapman's breathtaking arrogance, including his insistence (or maybe his wife's) on a house that far exceeded the money provided for it -- donated by the family that owns Forum Communications Co., including The Forum and the Herald. They learned that NDSU's foundation had provided a no-questions-asked expense account of more than $250,000 and that it paid Gale Chapman $50,000 a year.

And, fatally for Chapman, North Dakotans learned from The Forum's reporting that Chapman had spent $22,000 to charter a jet so he, his wife, his daughters and a fiance (now his son-in-law) could attend the presidential inauguration.

Lucky Bob Kelley.


UND's president and Marcia Kelley flew coach class. The whole bill for their trip was about a tenth of what Chapman paid.

So Kelley emerges as a kind of frugal folk hero while Chapman prepares to move out of his $2 million house.

So lucky UND.

President Kelley's prestige has risen, a result of his apparent modesty and his expressed eagerness to get past rivalry and build synergy.

UND's position in the state has risen, too, with the realization that its leadership didn't indulge in the spending sprees that brought Joe Chapman down.

Plainly put, UND seems better positioned as a result of its rival's misfortune.

But most especially, lucky North Dakota.

This embarrassing episode clears the way, at last, for the establishment of a real university system along the lines that the Higher Education Roundtable suggested a decade ago.


And it makes possible an era of genuine cooperation between equals rather than the madcap competition of the past decade.

Jacobs is publisher and editor of the Herald.

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