FARGO — Faculty may push North Dakota State University to reverse a decision to make the interim provost the long-term choice after the search committee chair said three viable candidates — none of which included the interim provost — could fill the position in light of the top pick being unavailable until June.

The NDSU Faculty Senate will meet Monday, Oct. 12, to discuss President Dean Bresciani’s appointment of Margaret Fitzgerald as the next provost. The organization’s agenda lists provost appointment and dismissal as an item for consideration.

Faculty have questioned whether Bresciani violated NDSU policy by picking someone who did not apply or interview for the position, especially after the provost search committee told the president he had three other endorsable candidates who went through the process, Committee Chairman Charles Peterson said Thursday in an email to Senate President Carlos Hawley.

The senate is investigating what Hawley called “a pattern of blatant abuse of policy” by Bresciani.

Margaret Fitzgerald
Margaret Fitzgerald

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“We are in the process of investigating that now, and we have a lot to do before Monday,” Hawley told The Forum. “Every stone we turn over seems to have something.”

The Forum requested a phone interview with Bresciani on Thursday, the same day Hawley shared Peterson's email with faculty. Breciani was unavailable Thursday. He defended his decision in a campus-wide statement sent out Friday.

"The search itself did not lead to a successful finalist, but we ultimately did hire a great new provost," he said. "That’s what matters."

Five finalists were chosen for on-campus interviews and open forums last month. The search committee’s first choice told Bresciani he or she was unavailable, NDSU said in an Oct. 2 email announcing Breciani’s decision to appoint Fitzgerald.

NDSU declined to identify the top candidate or the reason he or she couldn’t take the position.

Fitzgerald, who has been with the university for 32 years, took over for interim Provost Kenneth Grafton in January but said she was not interested in taking on the job in a more permanent capacity. She did not apply for the long-term position when it was advertised, nor was she one of the five finalists.

In his Oct. 2 announcement, Bresciani told the campus the remaining candidates would bring “impressive talents to the table, but he did not “sense that any of them garnered sure, strong and broad-based support from the campus or the committee.”

Peterson told Hawley that Bresciani asked the committee if there were any other candidates who could fill the position.

The search committee was “strongly unified in their answer to the president’s question, and there was unanimous consensus of the committee that there were definitely viable provost candidates still remaining in the finalists pool,” Peterson said in the email.

“At this meeting, the search committee very clearly recommended to the president that there were three remaining finalists that the committee felt were viable provost candidates for his consideration for hire,” Peterson wrote. “The search committee also informed the president that it would strongly support the president in his decision to hire any of these three remaining finalists as NDSU’s next provost.”

In response to a request for an interview, NDSU spokeswoman Brynn Rawlings sent The Forum Bresciani's Friday update, which noted that Hawley sent Peterson's email to faculty.

Bresciani said NDSU faces enormous challenges — a pandemic, increased competition for students and potentially decreasing support from state government — and needs strong provost leadership quickly.

He clarified the committee agreed there was "no campus consensus around any of the candidates" and it could not definitively pick a No. 2 candidate. Bresciani said the campus needs a finalist with more "enthusiastic support."

"Given the situation I was in, I would have been derelict in my duties if I did not approach Dr. Fitzgerald to explore the possibility of her assuming the permanent position," he said. "So that’s what I did, and I’m happy that she was willing to accept the role."

Bresciani was not available for a phone interview.

The committee wanted to put the decision in the president's hands, Peterson said. It isn't allowed to rank candidates, so it felt it wasn't its duty to pick a No. 2 candidate, Peterson told The Forum.

Ultimately, a university president has the authority to choose a provost, Peterson said.

"It was never in question that this is the president's search," Peterson said. "The search committee was never charged and isn't charged with picking the provost."

Instead, the committee said three candidates would be viable and members would support the president's decision, Peterson said.

Bresciani said in his Oct. 2 update that he excluded himself from the search process — to the point of not learning of the finalists’ names until that announcement was made in August to the entire campus — "to avoid any suggestion of inappropriate influence.”

Peterson said he understood why people would be upset at the process. A search often involves forums to allow for campus participation, and it's logical people would be upset if one of the candidates wasn't featured in those open forums, he said.

Fitzgerald's performance during the interim allowed people to observe her strengths as a leader, Rawlings said.

"As I view it, he (Bresciani) made his choice. He made his decision," Peterson said. "Now we need to get behind that to support our new provost for the benefit of everyone."

It is important to support Fitzgerald and move on to "the pressing challenges in front of us," Bresciani wrote Friday.

Hawley said he was not criticizing Fitzgerald’s work, adding she has done as well as can be expected. Faculty are questioning how Bresciani has handled the situation and other leadership decisions in the past, Hawley said.

When asked what remedy the senate would ask for, Hawley said invalidating the appointment seems to be the most primary option.

“Again, we are in process, but I think that the term we are using with the most frequency right now is a vote of no confidence,” Hawley said.