Survey shows university system employees feel bullied and intimidated


By Rob Port | North Dakota Bureau

BULLIED EMPLOYEES: NDUS Chancellor Larry Skogen said a survey finding 27 percent of university system employees felt “bullied” or “demeaned” was unacceptable.

BISMARCK, N.D. — Many employees of the North Dakota University system say they feel bullied and intimidated.

The revelations are part of a survey by the Core Technology Services/System Office Staff Senate. It comes as two top accountability officers say they’re being pushed out of their jobs for promoting new transparency standards

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; 11 percent said 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 to the university system’s vice chancellors following up on the survey. “If nothing else, every employee deserves to work in a respectful, non-threatening environment.”

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

NDUS Chief Auditor Timothy Carlson, who is on leave pending termination, has told Watchdog he was being terminated 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 Watchdog, referring to his and Chief Compliance Officer Kirsten Franzen’s efforts. “That has met with huge pushback.”

Franzen is on leave pending termination. She has declined to speak with Watchdog 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 Nov. 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 was scheduled to take up Carlson and Franzen’s terminations in a Nov. 20 meeting, but those matters were removed from the agenda prior to the meeting without comment.

University system employees were asked to respond to the survey between July 17 and Aug. 1 A total of 130 university system employees completed the survey, which Watchdog obtained through an open records request.