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North Dakota State president ‘surprised’ by critical review

June 30, 2021 GMT

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani on Wednesday signed an agreement with the state Board of Higher Education to stay on the job for 18 more months, following a harsh performance review.

The contract laid out by the board calls for Bresciani to serve out his term through the end of 2022. After that, he would become a tenured professor in health sciences and education.

Board chairman Nick Hacker called the move a “transition” and said Bresciani was not fired. Hacker would not be specific on what led to the one-time contract.

The evaluation by North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott released Wednesday criticized Bresciani for losing ground in research, enrollment, recruiting of non-traditional students and promotion of agriculture education in western North Dakota. Hagerott also questioned Bresciani’s handling of cybersecurity threats and the appointments of a new provost and vice president of research.

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Bresciani disputed most of those assertions in a June 17 memorandum to Hagerott and Hacker.

“I was surprised and, frankly, disappointed in the overall negative tenor of the summary,” Bresciani wrote. “I am starting my twelfth year at NDSU (not a decade) and I am proud of NDSU’s accomplishments during my presidency. As I will detail below, those accomplishments go well beyond the success of our football team and touch on every aspect at NDSU.”

Hagerott was perhaps most pointed about Bresciani’s efforts to rebuild his executive team, noting an “abrupt departure” of a provost in 2018 that resulted in the appointment of two interims and the selection of a longtime university employee who was not among finalists in a national search. It also led to a faculty censure.

“The selection of a non-candidate for Provost has unfortunately raised reputational risk to NDSU, a risk articulated to me by national search firms, that future nationwide candidates might be hesitant to apply for senior NDSU positions,” Hagerott wrote. The chancellor added he was concerned about three years of temporary, one-year appointments for the vice president of research position.

Bresciani called the provost pursuit a failed search, saying the only candidate backed by a hiring committee could not start at a reasonable time.

“I had to choose between a sub-optimal external candidate who could not get the full support of campus or the search committee, or a tremendously effective and proven internal interim provost,” he wrote. “I made my decision, and it was the right decision.”

As for the vice president of research, Bresciani said he was asked by faculty not to fill that position until the provost was named and he agreed “out of respect for shared governance.”

Hagerott ended the review by thanking Bresciani for his “long and devoted service” as president.

Bresciani said in a letter to campus Wednesday that he was “sorry the nature of events wasn’t such that I could be the first to share the news” about the contract. He said he would “continue to put my energy and passion into helping NDSU be successful, and supporting the search for the next leader of this institution.”