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Evaluation reveals some dissent about NDUS chancellor's performance

"Mark Hagerott, new chancellor of the North Dakota University System, seen April 30, 2015. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune"

GRAND FORKS — A summary evaluation of North Dakota University System chancellor Mark Hagerott by State Board of Higher Education chair Don Morton paints a positive view of the chancellor's work over the past year. But, an accompanying survey of board members shows that one member is frustrated with Hagerott and staffing issues within the NDUS.

The review was completed Wednesday, June 20, by Morton and obtained by Forum News Service through an open-records request.

In the review, Morton wrote that a majority of the SBHE feel Hagerott exceeded expectations on nine goals and equaled expectations on six others. Morton congratulated Hagerott and told the chancellor that the board looks "forward to future progress under your leadership."

In the copy obtained by the Herald, there is no mention of Hagerott's public controversy surrounding the firing of a top employee last year, nor about accusations in a staff survey that claims Hagerott is a militaristic leader who treats men with more respect than women.

Last year, Hagerott fired his chief of staff, Lisa Feldner, who later filed an affidavit and narrative with the state Department of Labor that accused Hagerott of discrimination and poor leadership.

The case is still pending.

The accompanying evaluation survey includes six responses and direct comments from Morton and board members Kevin Melicher, Mike Ness, Nick Hacker and Kathleen Neset. There were no direct comments attributed to vice chair Greg Stemen in the survey. The evaluation survey was distributed May 29 to the eight voting board members. Board members Jacob Dailey, the student member of the board, and Casey Ryan, Grand Forks, did not respond to the survey.

In the evaluation survey, Ness, who has been on the board since 2015 but whose term is expiring at the end of the month, expressed frustration with the chancellor in regard to NDUS staff and the chancellor's cabinet climate management.

"There may be some gains but I see this as a major issue with the Chancellor," he wrote. "I do not agree with extending his contract until the lawsuit with Dr. Feldner is finalized. If board members had known about the issues with staff last year prior to extending the contract for 2018-19 I would not have voted to do that. The office has lost key people and some of the new hires do not have the background to meet the needs of the the NDUS."

Feldner served as a system vice chancellor before Hagerott fired her "without cause" last fall. Her complaint to the Department of Labor and Human Rights has led to an official charge of gender discrimination that will be investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal civil rights agency.

In a summary evaluation, Morton wrote that a majority of SBHE members feel Hagerott "exceeded expectations" around several goals, but did note there was some dissent on the evaluation.

"While there was not complete Board consensus around the evaluation of your goals attainment, in my opinion it is a positive for the Board to have diversity of thought, perspectives, and input," he wrote.

In the overall review of Hagerott, Morton said the board appreciates Hagerott's "tremendous work ethic and commitment to campus leadership, faculty, staff and students."

"Your overall performance during this academic year has been impactful in many positive areas," Morton wrote. Morton was unavailable to comment Friday.

Staffing issues

Throughout the evaluation survey, Ness commented on staffing issues at NDUS.

"The system office has lost key personnel that were extremely valuable in the operation of the office. Either by being terminated or seeking other employment the system office no longer has the experience or education expertise to work through issues," he wrote. "At every meeting we hear about the issues on being short of staff to get things accomplished. It is more of an issue of having the right staff to get things done. I consider this a major failure by the Chancellor."

In comparison, Morton described the NDUS staff as "doing more good work with less people, which is typical of high performing teams."

Neset described improving system office functionality as an "ongoing process" that is made "much more difficult with the reductions in budget."

Ness also expressed concerns about who will be working with the Legislature, noting that during the 2017 Legislative session Tammy Dolan, two vice chancellors and Neset worked closely with legislators, and they "developed a great deal of trust in dealing with all issues." Dolan is the vice chancellor for administrative affairs and the chief financial officer at NDUS.

"This needs to be a priority for the SBHE and the system office," Ness states. "There are legislators who have voiced their concern with working with the Chancellor."

Morton noted that there is "always a learning curve in dealing with elected officials," adding that the chancellor "has built a strong relationship with the interim committee on higher ed" and is "evolving into a better listener."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

(701) 780-1134
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