Report From 2016 Alleges Inappropriate Language, Gender Bias From NDUS Chancellor

FILE PHOTO: Chancellor Mark Hagerott of the North Dakota University System. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Until last week Lisa Feldner was a vice chancellor in the North Dakota University System, but Chancellor Mark Hagerott fired her. Allegedly for “making derogatory comments to staff” and “suggesting they could lose their jobs,” my colleague Patrick Springer reported yesterday.

I’m told by university system sources that Feldner was fired by email but then had her email privileges suspended before she could read it. She had to first learn of her termination from colleagues.

But a 2016 report prepared by NDUS compliance officer Karol Riedman, at the behest of then-State Board of Higher Education chairwoman Kathy Neset, alleges that Hagerott himself used inappropriate language, a bullying demeanor, and engaged in gender bias.

Here’s the summary from Riedman’s review which included 15 of the 21 NDUS staff at the time (Riedman excluded her self, someone out on leave, and four employees who have little contact with the chancellor). You can read the entire document below, complete with direct quotes from NDUS staff which are worth your time to read:

This review was initiated after a request for open records from a Grand Forks Herald reporter apparently incensed Hagerott. The request had to do with former Governor Ed Schafer, who in June of 2016 was nearing the end of his time as the interim President of the University of North Dakota, endorsing Doug Burgum in the NDGOP’s contentious gubernatorial primary. Some lawmakers were upset by Schafer’s endorsement – for what it’s worth I thought it was just fine – and the press was looking into it.

According to Riedman’s report, Hagerott didn’t handle the scrutiny well:

It’s worth noting that Feldner, now terminated by Hagerott, was routinely in charge of organizing the NDUS response to these sort of open records requests.

Contacted for comment, NDUS spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius cautioned that the report was “not a scientific-type survey.” She said the derogatory comments about the chancellor “could have been from one or two people” and added that the State Board of Higher Education is “looking” into doing another review of Hagerott’s “more scientifically.”

I’ll leave it to you decide what needs to be “scientific” about NDUS employees feeling like their boss behaves inappropriately and treats men differently than women.

Asked if Hagerott himself could comment, Lorius told me he wouldn’t. “He hasn’t spoken to any other reporters, so we are trying to remain consistent,” she said in an email.

Lorius did provide me with comments from Neset who requested this review in the first place.

“We knew he came from a military strong background – that was a huge asset,” Neset said via email. “That said, we needed to work with him to fashion his style of leadership to the realm of public higher education.  I found Chancellor Hagerott to be extremely receptive to constructive criticism of his work and very coachable in his desire to improve.”

“Chancellor Hagerott has not only taken steps to address this feedback, he has openly accepted and requested input on his work,” she added.

“There were incidents where Chancellor Hagerott used inappropriate language and behavior, specifically as it pertained to an incident in June 2016, prior to the primary election,” she said.

Neset did confirm that Hagerott was using inappropriate language in front of staff.

“There were incidents where Chancellor Hagerott used inappropriate language and behavior, specifically as it pertained to an incident in June 2016, prior to the primary election,” she said.

“This behavior was elicited at times of stressful meetings and noted by staff personnel in the office.  These reports were addressed with the chancellor verbally, as part of the 2016 review, and as part of his 2016-17 performance year,” she continued, claiming that many of the reports in Riedman’s review were “unsubstantiated.”

I contacted Schafer about this as well and he confirmed Hagerott’s use of inappropriate language came to his attention. It worried him to the point where he counseled the chancellor about it. “I’ve had that conversation with him,” Schafer told me, saying he informed Hagerott that he was a “public servant” and no longer in the Navy.

Neset also said she hasn’t observed any gender bias from Chancellor Hagerott directly. “As former board chair – I have not noticed gender bias in any of the work by Chancellor Hagerott.  I have always been treated with absolute respect and professionalism by the chancellor.  I have not witnessed or been aware of a perception of gender bias,” she said.

Schafer, too, stood behind Hagerott. “I vouch for his integrity,” he told me. “I have seen no evidence of sexism or chauvinism.”

“I do believe that improvement was needed at the time on Chancellor Hagerott’s part and I do believe great strides have been made,” Neset told me. “The board leadership at the time had a goal to listen to input very clearly and thoughtfully, engage board counsel, and treat the chancellor fairly.  I do believe this process was sound and fully adhered to.”

That’s all well and good, but did Vice Chancellor Lisa Feldner get the same opportunity to improve? Because it sure seems like she got canned rather quickly for behavior far more mild than Haggerott’s.

Here is Riedman’s full report:

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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