Three top UND administrators to leave positions as part of budget cuts

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- At least three UND administrators have been approved to leave their positions at the university through either a voluntary separation or phase-out plan, according to a university news release.

The departures will contribute to a total of four executive positions now expected to be eliminated from campus by the end of the fiscal year.

Peter Johnson, interim vice president for university and public affairs, and Laurie Betting, interim vice president for student affairs, both will resign effective July 1 through a buyout program announced earlier this year.

Alice Brekke, UND vice president for finance and operations, will be phasing down her workload over two years before fully retiring at the end of the 2018-19 academic year. Brekke’s position eventually will be filled by a new hire.

In total, recent shifts in staffing will yield a net elimination of four executive positions.

One of those cuts is coming from Johnson’s current role. In his outgoing situation, Johnson is technically filling two administrative positions. He took on the interim vice presidency title last year after the departure of his predecessor, Susan Walton. That interim role was added to the job he already had as executive associate vice president for university relations.

After his departure, the executive associate job will not be replaced.

Johnson, who has served as university spokesman since 1988, will stay on in a transitional role after his resignation until a replacement for the vice president position can be found.

He said in a text message that it hasn’t yet been decided whether the “spokesperson” function will be maintained or if UND President Mark Kennedy will change the school’s communication structure.

The second executive position cut will follow Betting’s departure. According to the release, her role in student affairs will be combined with the current dean of students position. That single job will be filled on an interim basis by the current dean of students, Cara Halgren.

The merger of the two areas is reflective of a larger realignment, the release stated.

Starting Tuesday, student academic services will report to the office of the provost. At that time, the office of diversity and inclusion will report to the vice president for student affairs. International programs will stay where they are in the office of academic affairs.

In addition to the executives leaving by way of a buyout or phase-out program, two other executive positions have been eliminated in UND’s research division through a wider reorganization.

Mark Hoffman, associate vice president for research capacity building, will be leaving his administrative role for a faculty position. After Hoffman vacates that job, it will be eliminated.

Dave Schmidt, assistant vice president for grants and contracts, left his position earlier this year; his position also will not be refilled.

Wednesday marked the closing of a window in which eligible faculty and staff could apply for a voluntary separation or phase-out plan. After accounting for the current round of executive reductions, Kennedy said Thursday there are 15 senior administrators remaining at this point. That group is comprised of six vice presidents, seven associate vice presidents and two assistant vice presidents.

Executive shifts also are being seen at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, which draws a separate funding appropriation than the rest of the university. The release states Randy Eken, associate dean for administration and finance, is retiring. It does not specify whether Eken, a 38-year UND employee, is participating in a buyout program.

Kennedy said the total effect of voluntary separations won’t be finalized for a few more months due to timelines and protections included in separation agreements. It’s not yet clear how many eligible faculty and staff members have applied for separations.

Nor is it known how many administrators beyond the central leadership core are vying for a buyout.

“My guess is there are more administrators on that list, but neither (Johnson) nor I have seen it, nor has it been accumulated or digested,” he said.

Kennedy pointed to data compiled by the Legislature indicating UND had the second-lowest rate of noninstructional employee hires in the North Dakota University System. He said the elimination of the four executive positions reflected a 20 percent reduction in executive officers on campus.

“We want to make sure we’re fully participating on the administration team, the executive team, in very painful cuts across the university,” Kennedy said.

A budget cut reduction target of 12 percent has been allotted to each of UND’s colleges.

Colleges had been instructed in December to draft plans to accommodate potential cuts of 4, 8 and 12 percent.

The Thursday release announced each college had been directed to finalize their plans for the highest expected level of appropriated fund reduction. As they absorb the cuts, the colleges have been encouraged to focus on the priorities identified by UND’s strategic planning committee. Beyond the core academics, the university’s nonacademic support areas also have been allotted a 12 percent cut. The SMHS has been allotted a reduction target of 10 percent.

UND leadership has asked the university areas to submit draft plans to the school’s Executive Council by March 6, though the allotments could shift with changes in funding expectations.

The first of a series of weekly campus forums to discuss budget-related matters will be at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Room 7 of the Education Building.