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Viewpoint: Looking forward to NDUS chancellor's continued service

By Kathy Neset

and Don Morton

In recent weeks, much has been discussed regarding the State Board of Higher Education, Chancellor Mark Hagerott, Dr. Lisa Feldner, and related issues. As board leadership at the time many of these events unfolded, we would like to address this issue and share some insights.

Chancellor Hagerott was hired and began his time as chancellor on July 1, 2015. At the same time, we began our time as board leadership as vice chair and chair. During these first two years of Chancellor Hagerott's work with the board, sincere efforts were made by board leadership to listen to concerns of system staff, chancellor's cabinet, board members, and all groups involved in the day-to-day workings of this new board makeup. We care deeply for the wellbeing of all involved and found it paramount that everyone in the entire higher education system be treated fairly. This system is student centered — and the focus of the system should always be on providing the best for the students.

During the first year of Chancellor Hagerott's work, issues were brought to the attention of the board chair and vice chair. Some issues were substantiated and others were not corroborated. All were taken seriously by board leadership. We know any successful organization must have the best interests and the well-being of all workers strictly recognized. We are also aware that leadership changes leading to changes within an organization can be difficult for some to accept. With that in mind, board leadership worked through a process with board counsel and board audit and compliance officers and the chancellor and system staff, to thoroughly understand the issues and deal with them. Regular work was done in an ongoing fashion to understand, resolve, coach, and improve professional development of those involved. All of this work was done with the assistance, presence, and guidance of board counsel.

The 2015 Legislature wisely moved the Higher Education legal team to a position within the Attorney General's office. This allowed the board to have the full assistance of board counsel along with the AG's Office oversight in working through all legal matters before the board.

While working through personnel issues, board leadership worked with board legal counsel every step of the way to provide review of these issues, ways forward, all the while respecting and protecting the privacy of all individuals involved. Board leadership and the board supported the chancellor through this process. Ongoing review saw the chancellor very receptive to regular suggestions for improvement and evaluations. Professional development for the chancellor and organizational development for the system office were gained throughout this process.

As questions arise about the method that the board and board leadership engaged in to deal with system office issues regarding personnel matters, we would like to share that a fair method of discovery and resolution with board counsel present was followed, while respecting the privacy of personnel issues of those involved. At all times, board procedure was followed. We welcome the care and concern of everyone who raises questions about this topic as well as the method that the board uses for chancellor evaluation. As a way forward, this State Board of Higher Education will continue to work to provide a professional environment so we may lead by example.

We look forward to Dr. Hagerott's continued service as our chancellor and we would like to continue our focus on student success throughout the North Dakota higher education system.

Kathy Neset is former chairwoman of the State Board of Higher Education. Don Morton is the board's current chairman.