North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said Monday he’s requesting an independent investigation into what he calls attempts to politicize and discredit his office.
Hagerott said he’d like the State Board of Higher Education or a special assistant attorney general to investigate attempts to "manipulate" his office to influence the June 2016 primary election.
Hagerott said he received pressure after interim University of North Dakota president and former Gov. Ed Schafer endorsed Doug Burgum for governor over Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
“Despite my attempts to maintain the office of chancellor as an apolitical part of higher education, actions by certain persons this past week, and since 10th of June 2016, have attempted to cast doubt on the integrity of this office,” Hagerott wrote in a request to Board Chairman Don Morton on Monday.
Hagerott said in an interview with The Bismarck Tribune that his “failure to politicize” the office of the chancellor prompted “claims by certain persons of sexual harassment” that he views as retribution.
A June 2016 staff survey that was made public last week said there were no concerns raised about sexual harassment, wrote compliance officer Karol Riedman, who was requested to interview most university system employees.
The employees surveyed said Hagerott’s management style was “militaristic, autocratic and controlling” and said Hagerott treated women with less respect than men, according to the report.
The staff survey was prompted by Hagerott becoming “excessively upset” on June 10, 2016, over an open records request from the Grand Forks Herald that related to Schafer’s endorsement of Burgum.
Hagerott said the staff survey becoming public last week is an example of attempts to cast doubt on his office and his integrity.
“I need an investigation to clear this office and get the facts on the table,” he said.
The investigation needs to be independent, conducted by the board or an attorney who is designated as a special assistant attorney general, Hagerott said.
“For obvious reasons, it can’t be the attorney general’s staff,” he said.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel said in a letter to Hagerott on Monday that his office appoints special assistant attorneys general to provide legal advice to state agencies, boards and commissions and represent them in litigation. Special assistant attorneys general are not appointed for the purposes of conducting investigations, Seibel wrote.
Morton said Monday he had received the request for an investigation but needs more information before the board would discuss it.
It’s unlikely the request for an investigation will be discussed at the board meeting scheduled for Thursday, Morton said, because the agenda has already been set and not all members will be attending in person.
The report about Hagerott was made public about a week after he fired Vice Chancellor Lisa Feldner, which Hagerott has said was a dismissal “without cause.”
Forum News Service reported that Feldner was fired after receiving a letter from Hagerott alleging she made “derogatory references” about other staff members. Feldner wrote a memo denying the allegations.
(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)