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McFeely: Bresciani opponents will get their way after all

North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani delivers the State of the University address Friday, Sept. 30, 2016, in Festival Hall on the NDSU campus. Dave Wallis / The Forum 1 / 2
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FARGO — So in the end, those who wanted Dean Bresciani removed from North Dakota State will win. The successful and mostly popular president will move on down the road, if not to Ohio University then to somewhere else. Eventually, or sooner.

It's not going to go quite like North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott, State Board of Higher Education Chairwoman Kathleen Neset and board opponents like Fargo's Don Morton pictured it—Bresciani being fired for not conforming to "the system," or something—but the end result will be the same. Bresciani will be out of their hair and they can insert a panting poodle, ready to please, in his place. This is a much preferable arrangement for an old military man like Hagerott. He says "jump," you better ask "how high?"

As we've quoted before in this space, it was former NDSU President Thomas Plough who said on his way out the door: "We have a culture here that tends to look for mistakes rather than celebrate successes." That was in 1998. Some things never change in good ol' North Dakota.

And the microscope focused on shortcomings is three times more powerful for whoever is occupying the NDSU president's office in Old Main. Sometimes it reveals things that don't even exist.

You could see this coming for some time with the way the board of higher ed has picked and poked at Bresciani. In June, the board singled out Bresciani and did not renew his contract, saying he needed to work on some things Hagerott noted in a performance review. There clearly was friction and, from the NDSU president's viewpoint, confusion. The contract was renewed in November, partially because the support for Bresciani was overwhelming on campus and in Fargo, but it felt like a short-term solution.

With influential higher ed types owning the ability to make his professional life miserable, Bresciani wasn't going to stick around much longer. The writing was on the wall.

It is interesting to note Bresciani is one of four finalists at a university larger than NDSU, with a much larger endowment than NDSU, with a much bigger budget than NDSU, in a much more populous state than North Dakota. Ohio University is not The Ohio State University, but it is a clear step up from NDSU. If Bresciani gets the job, it will be much more lucrative than his current position. Bresciani is paid $354,000 a year at NDSU. The outgoing president of Ohio University, Roderick McDavis, has an annual salary of $500,000.

The finalists against whom Bresciani is competing have broad, impressive resumes.

M. Duane Tellis resigned as president of Texas Tech a year ago. His two previous jobs were president of the University of Idaho and provost and senior vice president at Kansas State.

Robert Frank is the president at the University of New Mexico. His two previous jobs were provost and senior vice president at Kent State in Ohio and a dean at the College of Public Health at the University of Florida.

Pam Benoit is the provost and executive vice president at Ohio University. Her two previous jobs were vice provost and dean positions at the University of Missouri. She is the internal candidate.

These are heavy hitters, finalists the state board would love to see for either of North Dakota's research universities. Hagerott and Neset themselves have said the state needs to change its open-records laws in order to attract better presidential candidates for NDSU and the University of North Dakota. And they said this after the board hired Mark (The Honorable) Kennedy as president of UND. Hagerott and Neset didn't believe the UND pool was deep enough.

Bresciani, apparently, is good enough to run in those circles. Yet he's being pushed out of North Dakota ... when he'd prefer to stay in North Dakota.

It makes no sense.

Well, it kind of does.

"As most of you are aware, I've always expressed a sincere interest in remaining at NDSU for some time to come—regardless of opportunities elsewhere," Bresciani wrote in an e-mail informing the university campus community of the development. "However, during the past few months some of those opportunities became particularly attractive."

The actions of the board—and others—made the opportunities more attractive. Bresciani's opponents couldn't push him out on their terms, but they'll get their way. If it's not Ohio, it'll be somewhere else. Eventually, or sooner. The end game is the same for NDSU.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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