FARGO – The head of the university system said Tuesday it’s an “embarrassment” that the president of North Dakota State University flew business class to India earlier this month, and in response, he plans to change the system’s travel policy to require presidents to fly in coach.
“To be using tax dollars to upgrade to these things won’t be part of my policy. It will change,” Chancellor Mark Hagerott said in an interview with The Forum. “Now, if they want to spend their own money or if the place they’re flying to wants to pay for that, that’s up to them.”
This response marks the latest in a series of rifts between chancellors and NDSU presidents.
Hagerott’s decision was fueled, in part, by a review of other state college and university presidents’ international trips.
“All of the presidents have said they’ve flown coach unless it’s been paid for by the entity that’s inviting them,” system spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said.
The chancellor won’t be requiring President Dean Bresciani to pay the difference between his estimated $8,300 business-class ticket and what a ticket in coach would have cost, which is between $1,000 and $2,000. He said he will leave that decision to Bresciani.
Hagerott said he also plans to start requiring that presidents seek approval from his office before taking overseas trips, though he knew about Bresciani’s recruitment trip in advance.
Hagerott stressed that Bresciani “didn’t do anything illegal.”
“He didn’t even break the exact policy as it’s written, because it doesn’t say presidents fly coach,” Hagerott said. “But it’s given me a chance to review our policies, which we’re working on to make it clear. … We’re public servants, and we travel with the public, you know, in coach.”
Bresciani’s return flight landed around 5 p.m. Tuesday. University spokeswoman Sadie Rudolph did not return multiple voicemails left for her Tuesday requesting comment.
The trip first became a point of contention last week when Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, emailed fellow state legislators to say he was disturbed that Bresciani was recruiting international students, whose educations he presumed would be subsidized by North Dakota taxpayers.
The trip came under further scrutiny when media outlets, including The Forum, reported that Bresciani was traveling in the second row in business class, on flights where those were the nicest seats.
The chancellor said Tuesday that he understood why the “frugal” people of North Dakota might criticize Bresciani’s choice to fly business class.
“From my military tradition, from my family traditions, I understand why they’re annoyed with this,” said Hagerott, who has North Dakota roots. “For me, as leader of our higher ed system, where we’re public servants, that is an embarrassment.”
Historically, conflicts between the president of NDSU and the system chancellor have led to leadership shakeups.
Former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani served less than a year of his three-year contract before the board bought out his remaining time for $925,000, a decision that followed friction between Shirvani and campus presidents, Bresciani in particular. Shirvani had criticized Bresciani’s leadership in a performance evaluation and called for a 360 review of him.
Prior to Shirvani, former Chancellor Robert Potts clashed with then-NDSU President Joseph Chapman, and Potts was ultimately pressured to resign after two years. Potts said in his leaving evaluation that Chapman “engaged in a calculated effort to undermine the effectiveness” of his leadership.