UPDATE: This post originally indicated that Foster would be working from North Carolina, where she is from originally. That was based on previous information from UND indicating that Foster was resigning to be closer to family. I have since learned that Foster will be moving to Texas, and commuting from there to UND. I’ve updated this post to reflect that new information.
UPDATE: New information indicates that Foster received a $30,000 per year raise, and promotion to chief of staff, in November.
A couple of SAB readers at the University of North Dakota tipped me off yesterday to what sure seems like an unusual new employment arrangement for President Mark Kennedy’s chief of staff.
Angelique Foster, who had previously announced she would be leaving her position after the spring semester, has agreed to stay on in her position and work from her new home in Texas. She’ll commute back and forth on a regular basis.
Foster had worked for Kennedy previously at George Washington University starting in 2012. When Kennedy took over at UND in 2016 “he asked her to be his special assistant.”
I reached out to UND spokesman David Dodds, who said Foster will continue to collect her full $114,000 per year salary. She won’t take a pay cut, despite being a University of North Dakota employee who lives in Texas.
In addition to her on-going salary, the university will pay for Foster to back and forth from Texas to Grand Forks. “We are estimating those trips will average $1,000 with air fare, lodging and access to a vehicle,” Dodds told me. “The University is looking at capping that at $25,000 unless otherwise approved by President Kennedy.”
Dodds justified the arrangement by claiming that, even with these travel expenses, UND would have to spend more to hire someone else. “Even adding the current salary and the maximum cap would cost far less than the median or certainly the average salary for a Chief of Staff in higher education in our region and among our peer group,” Dodds said.
“We conducted a search for a Chief of Staff and, as part of the process, learned that such position among higher education institutions in our region and peer group run $185,000 as a median and $225,000 as an average. Some spot checking confirmed those figures,” he added.
I’ll leave it to you readers to decide if there’s really nobody in the North Dakota region qualified and willing to take on this position for less than $185,000. I’ll admit that I’m more than a little dubious.
Dodds also defended the arrangement by referencing the fact that I, also, work from home. “It could also be noted that the move reflects the digital economy and a current reality – one that you and your work reflects, as well, albeit in the private sector: More and more workers are working at a distance,” Dodds said. “These arrangements have been shown to be even more successful when there is an established relationship involved, such as the case with Angelique and President Kennedy.”
I should note that while I do work remotely, my job doesn’t necessitate tens of thousands of dollars per year in travel expenses so that I can commute.
Per Dodds, this arrangement with Foster is exploratory. “The current situation concerning Angelique is an experiment which will be revisited in six months. If it doesn’t work, we’ll likely do something different,” he told me. “But we believe it is worth the experiment to see if we can keep Angelique, an extraordinarily effective and productive worker, on board.”
This move comes after a couple of budget cycles in which the University of North Dakota has seen budget reductions. The campus has been making cuts to reduce costs. Some of them, such as the elimination of the women’s hockey team, have been quite controversial.
The move also comes as lawmakers in Bismarck write new budgets for the North Dakota University System. This week the state Senate approved a plum appropriation in the form of tens of millions of dollars in Legacy Fund earnings directed to UND and North Dakota State for what will supposedly be research to promote economic diversity in the state.
UPDATE: State Auditor Josh Gallion: