Higher Ed Staff Say They Have "Fear Of Retaliation" For Correcting Illegal Practices

As two top accountability officers in the North Dakota University System say they’re being pushed out of their jobs for promoting new transparency standards a survey (see below) of university system employees shows many of them feel bullied and intimidated.

The survey was administered by the Core Technology Services/System Office Staff Senate, and university system employees were asked to respond to it between July 17 and August 1st of 2014. A total of 130 university system employees completed the survey which I obtained through an open records request.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]Among the comments from the survey were claims that university system staff had been subjected to “sexist” remarks, “cursing,” and “fear of retaliation for trying to correct illegal and unethical practices.”[/mks_pullquote]

The findings indicate significant numbers of employees who say they feel intimidated and fearful of speaking out.

Asked if they felt they could speak their minds without fear of reprisal, 34 percent of respondents said they disagreed, with 11 percent saying they strongly disagreed. Asked if they’d been exposed to “bullying or demeaning behavior,” 27 percent said they agreed including 12 percent who said they strongly agreed.

“This is clearly unacceptable,” Chancellor Larry Skogen wrote in a memo following up on the survey to the university system’s Vice Chancellors. “If nothing else, every employee deserves to work in a respectful, non-threatening environment.”

Among the comments from the survey were claims that university system staff had been subjected to “sexist” remarks, “cursing,” and “fear of retaliation for trying to correct illegal and unethical practices.”

Given what’s happening publicly with two of the university system’s top people, that last is understandable.

NDUS Chief Auditor Timothy Carlson, who is currently on leave pending termination, told me previously that he was being fired in part because he pushed for new accountability policies in the university system. “We were working on upgrading our code of conduct to a more contemporary corporate version that would require the disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest of decision makers throughout the entire system,” Carlson told me of his and Chief Compliance Officer Kirsten Franzen’s efforts. “That has met with huge pushback.”

Franzen is also on leave pending termination. She has so far declined to speak with me about her situation, but wrote in a response to her notice of termination that she had difficulty initiating investigations into unethical activities.

“I have requested permission from you to perform investigations into issues that have arisen through open records requests, media interest, or through the Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Hotline,” Franzen wrote in a November 16 letter to NDUS Chief Ethics Officer Murray Sagsveen. “Many of those requests have been denied, have been  reassigned, or have been handled by you or the Chancellor without a formal investigation.”

The State Board of Higher Education were scheduled to take up Carlson and Franzen’s terminations in a November 20th meeting, but those matters were removed from the agenda prior to the meeting without comment.

Still, not a very flattering look at how the NDUS operates if staff feel they can’t speak out about problems without being retaliated against.

NDUS Survey

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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