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ND higher ed board reviewing Bresciani's texts on media rules

FARGO - The tumult surrounding North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani's handling of now-rescinded media restrictions on covering Bison athletics has prompted state officials to look into the matter, according to State Board of Hig...

NDSU President Dean Bresciani
NDSU President Dean Bresciani
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FARGO – The tumult surrounding North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani’s handling of now-rescinded media restrictions on covering Bison athletics has prompted state officials to look into the matter, according to State Board of Higher Education Chairwoman Kathleen Neset.

The state board singled out Bresciani in June, extending the contracts of six other state college and university presidents but not his. The board delayed taking action on his contract until this fall, asking him to improve his performance in certain areas, including communication.

The way Bresciani handled the controversy was similar to previous communication issues cited by the board in delaying his contract extension, Neset said in a written statement issued Monday, Aug. 8. Bresciani, in  an email to NDSU employees Monday,  acknowledged he sent texts about the new media rules that were “not appropriate.”

The media restrictions were announced July 29 and rescinded by Bresciani on Aug. 2. The restrictions would have limited the access of news outlets that did not have contracts with the school to broadcast football and basketball games. For instance, one of the restrictions said outlets without contracts would not be allowed to broadcast or stream online live, regularly scheduled news conferences.

Through a bidding process, KVLY-TV won the football contract, Midco Sports Network won the basketball contract and Radio FM Media won the radio contract for both sports. Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum, WDAY-TV and WDAY-AM, took part in the bidding, but did not win a contract.

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Last week, text messages between Bresciani and athletic department officials regarding the media rules were revealed after Forum Communications Co. columnist Rob Port made a public records request and wrote about them in a column.

The text messages showed that Bresciani at first supported efforts to defend the media rules and mocked those critical of them, striking a tone that didn’t jibe with his public statement that he was “profoundly disappointed” after learning more about the rules.

In her statement, Neset said the board and North Dakota University System officials were gathering information about the situation.

“This new development is serious and consistent with communications issues the Board previously identified in Dr. Bresciani’s improvement plan. After the Board has had the opportunity to review the information, it will consider next steps as soon as possible,” she said.

In the email to NDSU employees, Bresciani explained why he initially approved the restrictions and then later rescinded them.

Bresciani said he wasn’t consulted on the media rules before they were announced. He said he became aware of the rules after “the explosive reaction on social media.”

“Initially, it was my understanding that: (a) the guidelines had been part of the bid process so that all the local media companies understood that these were going to be implemented; and (b) the new guidelines were fairly common across the country,” he wrote, adding that he later learned these two points were not true. “I now understand that my initial support was misplaced and some of my text communications were not appropriate.”

Position reversed A series of emails that were released to state Rep. Roscoe Streyle, a critic of the state’s higher education officials, shed additional light on the controversy.

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One email came from an alumnus who railed against the media rules and called for the resignation of Athletic Director Matt Larsen and Jeremy Jorgenson, NDSU’s director of sales and broadcasting. In reaction, Bresciani wrote on July 31 to Chancellor Mark Hagerott and other officials who received the alumnus’ email, saying that “I fully support and agree with the business decision made regarding the matter.”

A different stance emerged Aug. 2, when Bresciani wrote an email to the chancellor and members of the state board: “After further study over the past two days, I’ve learned much more about this matter. My initial understanding of the situation, as it was described to me, was not accurate.”

The same day, Bresciani emailed Larsen, outlining his expectations for the future. Bresciani wrote that “Athletic Department policies with any public and/or reputational implications” must be vetted by the president’s office.

Kevin Melicher, a state board member, said he thought the media rules were “a little ridiculous” and that Bresciani’s text messages were “totally inappropriate.” But Melicher still considers himself a Bresciani proponent.

“It would be terrible if this caused him to either lose his position through either a forced resignation or a firing because there’s more to running the university than doing some inappropriate text messages and emails which he has sincerely apologized for,” Melicher said.

‘A hell of a job’ Other members of the state board, which has the power to fire Bresciani, declined to comment and referred questions to Neset.

An NDSU spokeswoman said Bresciani was not available for an interview Monday because he was at a retreat with the chancellor and other state college and university presidents. On Friday, Aug. 5, an NDSU spokeswoman released a statement saying Bresciani’s support of the media rules had evolved, though his explanation in the email to employees Monday was far more detailed.

In June, The Forum published a letter from a group of local business leaders showing their support for Bresciani. And on Monday several of those leaders came to Bresciani’s defense, while also expressing displeasure over his text messages.

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“We’ve all made mistakes,” said Steve Scheel, CEO of Scheels All Sports. “I think this is just a situation where he’s going to learn from this and move on.”

“Ridiculous” was the word Tom Dawson, president of Dawson Insurance, used to describe a Forum editorial published Sunday, Aug. 7, that called for Bresciani’s resignation.

“I think Bresciani is doing a hell of a job,” Dawson said. “This witch hunt is just irritating.”

Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the Fargo Municipal Airport Authority, said the situation was a disappointing distraction from the research work happening on campus.

“A lot of great students and faculty and staff doing great things each day and are getting a lot of recognition within their fields for it, but it doesn’t seem we hear enough about that,” he said.

Forum reporter Tu-Uyen Tran contributed to this story.

Bresciani Campus Email by inforumdocs on Scribd

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