The chairman of the North Dakota higher education board said Thursday that board leadership stands by University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott after the release of a 2016 staff survey that described him as a “militaristic” and “controlling” leader who treats men with more respect than women.
The report, provided by the university system, came at the request of Kathleen Neset, then the chairwoman of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education. Dated June 26, 2016, it was authored by Karol Riedman, a university system compliance officer.
Riedman’s report paints an unflattering picture of Hagerott’s leadership style, with descriptions ranging from “absent-minded professor” to a “bull in a china shop” or simply that there is no leadership.
“Most comments suggested that the chancellor tends to interrupt and talk over staff, which makes some employees feel that he does not respect them, is not listening or does not value their input,” Riedman wrote.
While there were no concerns raised over sexual harassment, “all employees,” Riedman said, “felt there was a difference in treatment between men and women, and that the men in the office were treated with more respect and valued than the women.”
Riedman interviewed 15 of the 21 university system staff -- two men and 13 women -- while excluding herself, one staff member out on annual leave and four employees who have little contact with the chancellor.
The report surfaced a week after Hagerott fired Vice Chancellor Lisa Feldner “without cause.” Feldner said this week she was “bewildered” by her dismissal.
In response to an interview request, university system spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said Hagerott “has not spoken with any reporter thus far and we would like to remain consistent.” In a statement provided by Lorius, Neset said the chancellor denied many of the allegations in the report.
“Chancellor Hagerott has not only taken steps to address this feedback, he has openly accepted and requested input on his work,” Neset said. “I have found Chancellor Hagerott to be very receptive to and responsive to the work that was done towards professional development and organizational unity.”
Hagerott began his stint as chancellor in July 2015 with an annual salary of $372,000. He succeeded interim Chancellor Larry Skogen, whose tenure followed the ouster of Hamid Shirvani in 2013.
Hagerott came to the North Dakota University System after working as deputy director of the Naval Academy’s Center for Cyber Security Studies in Annapolis, Md. He often cites his time in the Navy, but his prior experience has apparently led to some friction in the university system office, with one employee remarking that “it feels like we are in the service.”
Still, Neset’s August 2016 evaluation of Hagerott largely praised the chancellor’s performance in his first year on the job. It points to communication, planning and management as areas for improvement.
“Your overall performance during this year as chancellor of the North Dakota University System is to be commended,” she wrote, adding that board members generally said he has the “talent, credentials, desire and skills to do this job of chancellor very well.”
Reached by phone Thursday, Neset deferred comment to current Board Chairman Don Morton, who said board leadership is “very supportive” of Hagerott. He said Riedman’s report was an “informal survey” but was still helpful in pointing out some issues.
“We’ve been addressing it for the last year in individual meetings with members, with groups meetings, with the chancellor, with the staff,” Morton said.
Riedman’s report also details a June 2016 incident in which Hagerott was reportedly “excessively upset” over an open records request that stemmed from former Gov. Ed Schafer’s endorsement of Doug Burgum in the Republican primary for governor. Schafer was the interim president of the University of North Dakota at the time.
A Grand Forks Herald reporter asked for university system staff emails regarding Burgum and Schafer, a “fairly routine request” that Hagerott reportedly believed required “intensive staff work” that could mean working through the weekend.
“The chancellor showed great concern, interpreted as anger and agitation, by raising his voice and appearing extremely upset,” Riedman’s report said. The chief of staff and legal counsel were eventually able to reassure Hagerott.
“The situation could have been avoided had he been more familiar with the regular open record request process, and if he had listened to -- and trusted -- the staff members who tried to explain that the process was very routine, and nothing to be overly concerned about,” Riedman wrote.