FARGO - North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani has a packed schedule, with back-to-back appointments from morning until night.
In one day, he might meet with multiple faculty members, give remarks at a student event and meet with donors.
These functions take him around Fargo, as well as to Grand Forks, Bismarck and Minneapolis, and often, Bresciani is not the person behind the wheel.
NDSU employs a security liaison to the president, who often serves as the president’s driver – a job and a role that doesn’t exist at other universities in the region.
The Forum requested copies of Bresciani’s calendar from February 2013 to August 2014 using an open records request. In that time period, Scott Magnuson, whose job title is captain of special project operations, is listed as driving him 112 times.
Magnuson has driven Bresciani to and from the airport, to meetings in Wahpeton and Bismarck, and to local functions, such as Sanford Health board meetings and NDSU baseball games.
He has driven Bresciani to commencement at the Bison Sports Arena and the Fargodome, and to business lunches at Juano’s and the Hilton Garden Inn. When ESPN’s “College GameDay” first came to Fargo, Magnuson drove Bresciani to the downtown festivities at 7 a.m.
Magnuson drives the president on weekdays as well as weekends, as early as 5:15 a.m. and into the early evening.
In a recent interview, Bresciani said Magnuson drives him “occasionally,” and campus police make those decisions.
“I get to meetings and events in a variety of different ways and, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure what the magic to that is,” he said. “I leave that to the campus security department. Why, when, I don’t book my transportation.”
Ray Boyer, director of the University Police and Safety Office, said when Magnuson drives the president, it’s so police can contact Bresciani in the event of an emergency.
“His purpose is not a driver,” Boyer said. “His purpose is a strategic security purpose that we use at NDSU to ensure our campus is safe.”
According to his job description, Magnuson’s duties include being the “point of contact to the President’s Office” and coordinating “safety and security needs for the President’s Residence.”
His job description does not mention that he drives the president, though he likely does so more than Bresciani’s calendar suggests. Assistant Vice President Laura McDaniel said Bresciani’s calendar is not a comprehensive list of all his appointments.
“I can tell you when (Magnuson) drives me, it’s not on anybody’s calendar,” Boyer said.
Boyer would not elaborate on why Magnuson drives him.
Magnuson was first hired by NDSU as a police officer in March 1997, said NDSU spokeswoman Anne Robinson-Paul. He was promoted to sergeant in 2006, lieutenant in 2007 and his current position in 2009.
After The Forum published an article in January 2009 detailing Magnuson’s role in protecting former NDSU President Joe Chapman, many perceived his position to be that of a bodyguard.
Subsequent criticism led to NDSU reassessing the position, but the university decided to retain Magnuson in the role he still holds, as a liaison between police and the president.
Magnuson could not be interviewed for this article because “Ray Boyer does interviews for the unit,” Robinson-Paul said in an email.
Magnuson is on call 24/7, and his office is in the same administrative building as Bresciani’s, a floor above the president’s.
His current salary is $81,684, which Boyer said is “not enough” for the 50-plus hours a week he works.
How NDSU’s president travels has been a point of controversy in the past. In 2011, some legislators criticized the use of a private plane, which a state study found cost more than $5,600 an hour to operate for 69 flight hours in that fiscal year. NDSU officials at the time defended the airplane as time-saving and cost-efficient. The NDSU Foundation no longer owns the plane.
Bresciani acknowledged that Magnuson accompanies him to events “sometimes,” but said it’s not always.
Boyer would not say why Magnuson attends some events and not others.
“I can’t predict when something’s going to happen,” which is why it’s important that Magnuson be at a variety of events and with the president in the car, Boyer said.
And when Magnuson is not with the president, he knows where Bresciani is and how to reach him, Boyer said.
Boyer created Magnuson’s position in late 2008 in tandem with a crisis management system.
After a bomb threat in March 2001, while former President George W. Bush was on campus and administrators were unreachable, he wanted to rebuild the system of communication during emergencies.
A key piece of that system is having a direct line to the president, he said.
“There is an expectation that the president knows what’s going on, approves what’s going on and is dealing with what’s going on,” Boyer said. “And you cannot get that unless you have communications.”
Boyer said he calls on Magnuson to communicate with the president every day but, for security reasons, could not reveal the content of those conversations.
Boyer insisted that Magnuson was key to the security of the NDSU campus.
“For me to do anything less than what I’m doing would be something I should get fired for,” he said.
Neither the University of North Dakota nor the University of Minnesota employs either a security liaison or a driver for the university president.
UND President Robert Kelley drives himself and has no police liaison, university spokesman Peter Johnson said.
“If he has any security needs, he goes to our chief of police, but there’s nobody who’s attached to the president or anything like that,” Johnson said.
Johnson could not remember a time that Kelley has needed to contact police.
“I don’t know if, in the time that he’s been here, he ever made a call, actually,” he said. “There’s not really been a need for security kinds of things.”
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler also does not have a driver or security liaison, spokesman Chuck Tombarge said.
“Whoever happens to be going with him someplace will often give him a ride,” Tombarge said. “But there’s no one person, security or otherwise, dedicated to that role.”
Occasionally, University of Minnesota police patrol Kaler’s residence.
“But other than that, there’s nothing more dedicated to the president,” Tombarge said.
Minnesota State University Moorhead President Anne Blackhurst also drives herself, spokesman David Wahlberg said.