FARGO -- Dean Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University since 2010, is one of four finalists for president of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.
The announcement was made Thursday, Jan. 5, by Ohio University. Bresciani sent a statement via campus email informing students, faculty, staff and others of the development.
“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. “However, during the past few months some of those opportunities became particularly attractive.”
He added: “I sincerely appreciate the role of NDSU’s students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends in the successes that have taken place here, and the personal encouragement those groups have offered me. The SBHE’s (State Board of Higher Education’s) overwhelming support in extending my contract confirmed those successes and is similarly appreciated.”
Bresciani’s past year at NDSU has been rocky, including the delayed renewal of his contract by the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, which voted 7-1 in November to extend his leadership of the university until June 30, 2018, the same term as his fellow campus presidents.
The delay resulted from the board’s concerns about Bresciani’s performance in the areas of teamwork and collaboration, communication, information technology and research.
Bresciani had strong backing from the NDSU student and faculty senates, which passed resolutions urging that he remain president at the university. Among other factors, faculty and student leaders described Bresciani as a skilled administrator who was credited with involving campus constituencies in carrying out budget cuts.
NDSU staff also sent a letter of support, as did business leaders and NDSU supporters.
Also last year, Bresciani became the subject of an independent review for his handling of new, more restrictive media guidelines for covering Bison basketball and football. After a storm of protest, Bresciani quickly ordered the cancellation of the media policy.
But Bresciani made comments about the controversial guidelines, including statements in email and text messages, that appeared contradictory, prompting the board to hire a Kansas lawyer to conduct an outside review of the matter. The lawyer concluded that Bresciani did not violate any policies and did not lie in his statements. But she also concluded his communication and decision-making could have been better.
Bresciani’s tenure has included its high points, including his announcement in his October “State of the University” address that fundraising by the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association totaled almost $60 million over the preceding year, and donor support had doubled over the six years since he took the university’s helm.
Other major achievements since Bresciani joined NDSU have included construction of a new instruction building for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and a major new $14.7 million scholarship program.
Kathleen Neset, chairwoman of the state higher education board, said she first learned Bresciani is a candidate at Ohio University Thursday morning, when the announcement was made.
“I understand that when we have good, talented people opportunities will come toward them,” she said, adding that she is pleased with the progress Bresciani has made on his performance goals. “I think there’s a very good, open, transparent working relationship with Dr. Bresciani and the board, through today.”
Ultimately, she said, it will be up to Bresciani to decide whether he will remain at NDSU or accept a new position elsewhere. Last July, Bresciani had said his intent was to retire from NDSU, making Thursday’s announcement somewhat surprising, Neset said.
“We’ll wish him well,” Neset said, whether he stays at NDSU or moves on.
Kathryn Gordon, an associate psychology professor and president of the NDSU Faculty Senate, said some faculty had speculated that Bresciani could be looking at other career options, given his delayed contract renewal.
The 10 percent budget cuts being implemented at state campuses -- and the prospect of deeper cuts to come -- would make this a difficult time for NDSU to search for a new president, and a difficult role for a new president to assume, she said. A budget proposal by former Gov. Jack Dalrymple for the two-year budget cycle that begins this summer calls for 15 percent cuts for universities, compared to the budgets approved in the 2015 legislative session.
“It’s a challenging time during these budget cuts to have a transition,” Gordon said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens at Ohio University.”
By contrast, assumptions for planning the upcoming fiscal year 2018 budget at Ohio University contemplate no cuts or tuition increases, but allow for an inflation factor in determining a budget cap.
The other three finalists for the Ohio University president’s job are Duane Nellis, who served as president of Texas Tech University from June 2013 through January 2016; Robert Frank, president of the University of New Mexico since 2012 and Pam Benoit, executive vice president and provost of Ohio University since 2009.
Ohio University reported total enrollment last fall of 40,025 and is rated as a research university with high activity by Carnegie, and was in the top 3 percent of higher education institutions globally as rated by the Center for World University Rankings, according to the university’s website.
The current president of Ohio University, Roderick McDavis, announced last March that he intends to step down this June. His 2016-17 salary, as reported by The Post, the Athens newspaper, is $500,000, nearly doubling the salary when he started 12 years ago.
Bresciani became NDSU’s 14th president on June 15, 2010, with a starting annual salary of $300,000. His two-year contract extension, signed in 2015, came with a yearly salary of $345,568.
In concluding his email message to the “Campus Community and Friends of NDSU,” Bresciani noted that being a finalist “by no means suggests I will be offered the position, and my interest in remaining at NDSU continues to be strong.”
Bresciani was not available for an interview Thursday, and declined through a spokeswoman to say whether he had any job applications pending with other colleges or universities.