Podcast: Chancellor Hagerott Defends Himself and Hiring Choices

Mark Hagerott, new chancellor of the North Dakota University System. File photo. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

I’ve written some pretty negative stories about North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott in recent days, and I’ve had trouble getting him to comment on them, but today he agreed to come on my radio show and talk.

The full audio is below.

We covered his decision to hire an acquaintance of his from the Navy, Phil Wisecup, contemporaneous to his firing of Vice Chancellor Lisa Feldner. We also covered a 2016 review of his performance, which hadn’t previously been made public, in which NDUS staff accused him (among other things) of unprofessional conduct and gender bias.

“He is a highly qualified former college president,” Hagerott told me, addressing the former issue. In fact, he went on at length about Wisecup’s qualifications and military background, which is all well and good. I don’t think anyone is questioning the man’s qualifications. At issue is the process which went into his hiring. A process which saw Hagerott bypass the normally required candidate search process by making a temporary appointment, then search for money to pay Wisecup more for his temporary gig (even going so far as to ask the Governor’s office to share the expense) before choosing to fire Feldner, a 20-year employee of the NDUS, for no reason at all removing her salary from the NDUS budget and presumably making room for Wisecup’s raise.

Hagerott acknowledged that his “military style voice…isn’t really appropriate” for the NDUS, but also blamed the negative review on the politics of the moment.

That’s not me saying Hagerott fired Feldner for no reason. That was literally his answer when I asked him why she was terminated. “She was let go without cause,” is all he’d tell me.

Hagerott wants us to see no connection between the firing of Feldner and the hiring of Wisecup – he explains that they’re in “two different positions” – but I think it’s hard for any reasonable person to look at the series of events and conclude anything other than that one precipitated the other.

As to the claims of unprofessional conduct and gender bias, Hagerott acknowledged that his “military style voice…isn’t really appropriate” for the NDUS, but also blamed the negative review on the politics of the moment.

Hagerott said the Republican gubernatorial primary, in which then-UND President Ed Schafer caused a stir by endorsing Doug Burgum, in addition to a showdown with NDSU President Dean Bresciani had him under a lot of stress. He also blamed “politics” for emergence of the 2016 review which hadn’t previously been provided to the full Board of Higher Education. In fact, Hagerott couldn’t confirm whether or not the report had even been placed in his personnel file. Something you’d think he’d know if it had been.

Plus, blaming politics doesn’t pass the smell test. Months before the Republican primary in June of 2016 Hagerott was undergoing “mentoring” per an email sent to then-SBHE Chair Kathy Neset (see below) which I obtained from a source reacting to the interview.

Among the points on which Hagerott was being mentored was his conduct in front of staff including “not referring to their age, gender, marital status, health, weight, political affiliation or personal life in your conversations with them” and not attending board subcommittee meanings.

Hagerott’s problems with his behavior in front of staff started well before Schafer endorsed Burgum.

Full audio and email exchange below.

Remember you can always listen to my show from 1-2pm weekdays on 970 WDAY AM and 93.1 FM in the Fargo/Moorhead area (12-2pm starting Wednesday), or online via the live stream and/or podcast cast.

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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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