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Potts steps down

Chancellor Robert Potts said his resignation and the controversy that led up to it should not impede the North Dakota University System from finding a replacement.

Robert Potts

Chancellor Robert Potts said his resignation and the controversy that led up to it should not impede the North Dakota University System from finding a replacement.

Potts told the state Board of Higher Education on Friday he wants to resign by Aug. 1 because his philosophy of how the system should operate differs from that of board members.

"This is a wonderful state and a wonderful higher education system, and I think they'll have lots of applicants," Potts said after Friday's conference call meeting.

He said North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman refuses to accept his authority and the board seems divided on giving him the authority to apply policies to all campuses.

But with the board's reaffirmation Friday of its commitment to a unified system, Potts said it's a great opportunity for someone new to come in who doesn't have the "baggage" he's accumulated over his two years.


Others were more skeptical of the university system's chances of finding a replacement with national stature.

"In the higher-ed community, North Dakota just took a black eye," said Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson.

Good, quality candidates will not want to work for a board that doesn't support the chancellor, Heitkamp said.

Tom Petros, a University of North Dakota professor, said one would think the board would try to keep a chancellor who has received nothing but positive evaluations.

"The board loses a lot of credibility with the faculty over this," said Petros, who served as vice president last year for the Council of College Faculties. "They push us to accept a system, to cooperate with our colleagues to behave as if it's one system, and now this happens."

Petros said the board should have intervened earlier or sat down Potts and Chapman for a mediation session.

Board President Pam Kostelecky called Friday's meeting to discuss the ultimatum Potts issued at a June 15 meeting.

Potts said he would quit unless the board gave him authority to apply policies equally to all campuses, saying Chapman "basically thumbs his nose at me."


Before discussion of Potts' contract in Friday's meeting, the board unanimously approved a motion reaffirming its commitment to a unified system.

While Potts commended the board for that action, he renewed his request for the board to work with him on negotiating a "graceful exit."

"Given the division of the board concerning the situation involving NDSU, I just feel it'd be better for the board and for me for someone to start fresh," he said.

Board member Bruce Christianson asked Potts to consider staying at least through the legislative session.

"I'm not looking forward to moving into a legislative session with a greenhorn neophyte," Christianson said.

Potts said being at the center of controversy for the past few months has been wearying and professionally damaging.

"I've had my fill of it, and I wish to depart under the best circumstances I can at this point in time," Potts said.

The board voted 7-1 to accept Potts' resignation, with student member Patricia Olson being the sole no vote.


The board appointed member Richie Smith, a Wahpeton, N.D., attorney, to work with Potts to negotiate an equitable settlement of his contract. Potts said his resignation is contingent on reaching a fair agreement.

He said he'd work closely with an interim chancellor to ensure a smooth transition. Potts also offered to work with the North Dakota University System as a consultant to further help with the transition.

The board appointed a five-member committee to immediately begin working on finding an interim chancellor.

Potts' decision came on the same day he met with Chapman to discuss his presidential evaluation.

Although Potts had prepared a draft evaluation, he said he suggested to Chapman that a third party do the evaluation because Potts didn't want to appear vindictive.

Chapman said he agreed to this in the meeting that lasted less than five minutes.

Chapman said he did not see the draft and he still does not know what he did to violate policies and procedures, which Potts said during the June 15 meeting.

"I'm not happy or unhappy," Chapman said of Potts' resignation. "I've tried to be professional in all of this."

Forum reporter Janell Cole contributed to this story. Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590

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