If there is a problem in the North Dakota University System it is that they live inside a bubble. Our higher education leaders live in their own version of reality where all is well and complaints from the public about poor performance and a lack of transparency are just misunderstandings by the ignorant hoi polloi.
Chancellor Larry Skogen was pushing this view back in March when he went on a media tour touting the idea that “misconceptions” and not actual, you know, problems were the biggest challenge facing higher education. He pushed it again in an absolutely glowing evaluation of outgoing and embattled UND President Robert Kelley (see below).
A glowing evaluation despite students nearly taking a vote of no confidence in Kelley’s leadership, and faculty members slamming both him and his administration in a recent survey. Among faculty some 54 percent say Kelley’s office is “not at all” or “not very” transparent, 43 percent say Kelley’s office is “not at all” or “not very” open, and 35 percent say they have no confidence in Kelley’s office with another 23 percent saying they are “neutral.”
Those are fantastically ugly numbers, yet according to Skogen (again, see below) they’re all just perception problems. In Skogen’s version of reality, Kelley is doing a perfect job.
Isn’t that just perfect? I’m not at all surprised that the status quo in higher education leadership in North Dakota thinks the solution for their problems is for people to stop perceiving their problems.
It would be easy to chalk this up to Skogen being a yes-man for his fellow university presidents. That’s been a concern since Skogen was first temporarily elevated to the Chancellor position from his presidency at Bismarck State College. He was seen as a sop to his fellow university presidents after they clashed with former President Hamid Shirvani. So yeah, Skogen is a homer for the university presidents, but this problem is larger than that.
His attitude about the problems in the university system – that they’re no more than a perception problem – permeates the administration of the universities. They honestly believe it. Complaints from faculty and students and the public only matter only in so far as it all creates a negative perception of them.
Were a faculty member at the University of North Dakota – or, indeed, at any of the state’s public universities – I would be outraged by this.
This glowing evaluation of Kelley sums up how much credibility university officials give complaints from students and faculty, and it’s not much at all.
I hope incoming Chancellor Mark Hagerott is aware of this glaring disconnect. I hope new State Board of Higher Education President Kathy Neset realizes what a problem this is.