Chancellor’s Comments on Former UND President Mark Kennedy Proves the Impotence of Higher Education Governance


North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark R. Hagerott visits with the Editorial Board August 24 at the Grand Forks Herald. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

One of the most persistent and confounding problems in North Dakota’s higher education system are university presidents – backed by politically loud constituencies made up of alumni and sports fans and hometown media – who don’t want to be governed. Who resent the governance of the State Board of Higher Education and the Legislature and actively seek to thwart their policy priorities.

Many of the scandals in the North Dakota University System begin with university presidents who forget they serve the State of North Dakota, and university system leadership doesn’t exactly do a lot to help dispel that notion. Earlier this year NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott, whose job it is to supervise the presidents of North Dakota’s 11 public campuses, admitted that he doesn’t feel as though he can be candidly critical of those presidents in publicly-available mediums such as their annual performance reviews.

Why doesn’t he feel he can be candid? Maybe because even mild criticism of a university president can earn you the wrath of the aforementioned constituencies.

Now we have another example of how the tail wags the dog in the NDUS.

In a discussion with the Grand Forks Herald editorial board (audio at the link), Hagerott describes telling former University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy not to apply for a new job in Florida. “I told him ‘Don’t do it,’” Hagerott said. “But he did it anyway.”

Not only did Kennedy do it anyway, but he went around Hagerott to a SBHE member (who the Chancellor won’t name) to get permission:

“It was kind of a funny day when he called me. I said ‘don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I hung up the phone and grabbed another phone call … and in that time he got one board member to say ‘it’s no problem.’ … It was literally that afternoon. It was like three phone calls. But he had at least one board member say ‘I don’t see a problem with this.’”

When asked which board member said that, Hagerott replied: “I don’t want to say. But I think we all regretted that (Kennedy) hadn’t given us more time. Like, hey, what you need to do as a president is call each board member. Just don’t sample one or two. … The person who said ‘no problem’ doesn’t live in Grand Forks.”

Kennedy didn’t get the gig in Florida, but he did land one later in Colorado which is where he’s at now having left Grand Forks with a kiss-off to North Dakotans that implied we’re a bunch of racists and misogynists. The NDUS is currently searching for his replacement at UND.

But back to Hagerott, can someone tell me what the point of his job is? He doesn’t feel like he can be candid in his evaluations of the university presidents, and when he does try to do his job and supervise them they go around him anyway.

That’s no way to run a railroad. Or, you know, a university system.