University System Chancellor Admits He Isn’t Candid in Written Evaluations of University Presidents


North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark R. Hagerott visits with the Editorial Board August 24 at the Grand Forks Herald. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

For years now, through scandal and controversy, the presidents of North Dakota’s universities have received consistently glowing evaluations from their boss the chancellor. It hasn’t really mattered who the chancellor is, or who the university president is, the only thing you’ll find in the publicly available evaluations is glowing praise.

The reason for this is obvious – the university system doesn’t want any criticism of a president to be made public – they just aren’t going to come right out and say that. So they carry on pretending like the evaluations are a meaningful reflection of the job performance of the president being evaluated, even though they’re just for show.

Except yesterday Chancellor Mark Hagerott flat-out admitted he isn’t “candid” in his written evaluations of the presidents.

Whoops (emphasis mine):

While North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott had a generally positive midyear review of UND President Mark Kennedy, some members of the State Board of Higher Education had concerns about what wasn’t in the review.

During Tuesday’s SBHE meeting, board member Dan Traynor expressed concern that certain issues were not addressed in the review, including the search for the law school dean, issues with the UND aviation department and others.

Hagerott said he has spoken with Kennedy about each of those issues. Additionally, he said there are written records of their discussions available for people to read via an open records request. Hagerott also offered to give more information to board members individually about verbal discussions he had with Kennedy.

“I did not feel inclined that it would be helpful to be recording publicly candid comments about each of the situations in a written document,” Hagerott said.

Yesterday multiple members of the State Board of Higher Education were wondering if it were even their job to concerned about performance of a university president. Now this.

UND has a lot of problems, and I’m not just talking about the recent controversy over President Mark Kennedy’s hiring decisions. The school has conducted three searches to find a new law school dean and they’ve yet to be successful. Kennedy got into a very public spat with the Engelstad Foundation, a hugely important donor to the school. Faculty leaders on campus say morale is low.

Yet none of that makes it into Kennedy’s evaluation?

If evaluations of our university presidents aren’t going to include “candid comments” then what damn good are they? Why are we paying the chancellor and his staff to go through the process of an evaluation if the end result is a bunch of ego-fluffing hagiography?

If there were ever a single example of why governance of North Dakota’s university system has been such a headache, the fact that the chancellor of the system feels like he can’t be candid in his evaluations of the university presidents is it.

By the way, there were some shenanigans not so long ago with Hagerott’s own evaluation.  In June of 2016 a NDUS staff survey was conducted which accused Hagerott of, among other things, treating male staff differently than women and losing his temper in work settings.

Yet just a couple of months later, in August of 2016, Hagerott got a positive evaluation from SBHE member Kathy Neset who said his leadership was to be “commended.”

See how that works?