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Hagerott complaint added to state board's meeting agenda

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

BISMARCK—After initially making no official plans to do so, the governing board of the North Dakota University System will be discussing in its meeting Thursday, Nov. 30, embers of the State Board of Higher Education to privately discuss a preliminary labor complaint filed earlier this month by Lisa Feldner, an NDUS vice chancellor fired by Hagerott in September. The session will be limited to board members with voting status, as well as nonvoting advisers, the board's executive assistant and legal counsel.

Feldner, who also served as Hagerott's chief of staff until shortly before her termination, submitted on Nov. 17 a set of accusations against Hagerott and SBHE leaders to the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights. Her allegations, outlined in a 17-page narrative of her time working with the chancellor, include claims that Hagerott made use of discriminatory practices based on age, gender and health, among other things. Feldner also claims that her termination, which was "without cause," was retaliatory in nature.

During the time included in her narrative, Feldner states that leaders of the SBHE—including current board Chair Don Morton and former Chair Kathleen Neset—did not take adequate steps to address the allegedly hostile environment in the NDUS office. She has called for an official investigation of the NDUS office, which may be carried out either by the state Department of Labor or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Both Hagerott and board leaders have said they "strongly disagree" with Feldner's claims, which they have described as a "distraction" from the work of the board and of NDUS in guiding higher education in North Dakota.

The addition of the executive session for discussion of Feldner's allegations wasn't the only change of its kind made Wednesday to the SBHE agenda. The board will also go into executive session later in the meeting to discuss a claim made regarding the A. Glenn Hill Center at North Dakota State University. The $29.4 million center houses courses with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a package known as STEM, and is the newest academic building on the NDSU campus. It is not yet clear what the claim refers to.

The SBHE is also set to cover a wide range of other items in its regular open session, including the recently announced higher education governance task force created by Gov. Doug Burgum, as well as system policies regarding intellectual property royalties and the minimum credit hours to confer a student certificate of completion.

The board will also hear a proposal to reduce its current monthly, in-person meeting schedule to a new calendar that would only have an annual total of four face-to-face meetings, interspersed as needed with digital gatherings. The proposal has drawn an official letter of concern from a statewide faculty group, which claims the shift would reduce transparency while reducing the board's connection to the 11 NDUS campuses.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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