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Column: NDSU president should do the right thing — resign

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-Poor Dean Bresciani. He intended to shoot the media in the head, it seems, but when the gun went off, the bullet hit Bresciani himself.Somewhere above his foot.Then the media shot him in the back.Such is the latest chapter in th...

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GRAND FORKS, N.D.-Poor Dean Bresciani. He intended to shoot the media in the head, it seems, but when the gun went off, the bullet hit Bresciani himself.

Somewhere above his foot.

Then the media shot him in the back.

Such is the latest chapter in the story of North Dakota State University's current president.

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Ten days ago, NDSU announced a policy that restricted media access to its football and men's basketball teams. This was couched in fine words about branding and protecting the privacy of athletes.
What it amounted to, though, was denying access to media other than those paying for the privilege of covering NDSU athletics and playing by the rules that NDSU imposed.

The policy was widely mocked.

Bresciani canceled it, saying he hadn't known about it in advance.

Oh! But he had.

We know this because of North Dakota's open records law and blogger Rob Port, who asked for text messages on the subject that might have passed between officials at the university.
Sure enough, Bresciani had blessed the policy, promising to stand behind his athletic director when it was announced, even giving advice about how his subordinates should respond to media criticism.

Port has been the most consistent critic of Bresciani for the longest time. He regards Bresciani as "a bad leader for NDSU."

Bresciani has been criticized in this column, as well, though the charge here is a different one.

Bresciani may have been good for NDSU, but he has been bad for higher education in North Dakota. That is because he has not been a team player. Instead, he has sought to aggrandize NDSU rather than integrating it into a more streamlined, more responsive and more responsible state university system.

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That's been the system goal for 25 years.
What's new now is the completely unanticipated entrance of The Forum, until this moment an unrestrained cheerleader for NDSU and President Bresciani.

The Forum is North Dakota's largest newspaper, flagship of Forum Communications Company,

which owns the Herald, the Dickinson Press, Jamestown Sun, West Fargo Pioneer and WDAZ and WDAY television stations, plus an interest in stations in Minot and Bismarck, plus outlets in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota. It's the region's media giant in other words.

None of these outlets were on NDSU's approved list.

Heretofore, The Forum has been sycophantic in its praise of Bresciani.

Harsh?

Yes. That's the appropriate adjective for The Forum's attitude toward Bresciani and all things.

No longer.

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At 5.11 p.m. on Saturday, The Forum posted an editorial on its website calling for President Bresciani to resign.

At last, it seems, Forum had had enough.

The newspaper didn't say that Bresciani had lied, though this is clearly shown in the messages that Port publicized (at sayanythingblog.com). The Forum used a kinder, gentler phrase. Bresciani had "misled the public," the newspaper's editorial said.

So he had.

And he had thrown his athletic director under the bus.

This is of a piece with Bresciani's conduct throughout his presidency. He's behaved as if NDSU existed in its own universe, not accountable to anybody else and better than everybody else. Evidence of this attitude was detailed in this column on Feb. 2, and I won't repeat the indictment here - except to point out a couple of particulars that have occurred since then. One is Bresciani's dismissal of the allotments, ordered by the legislature and implemented by the governor, that were meant to meet budget contingencies. His sleight of hand produced a reduction on paper but no real savings. This leaves NDSU vulnerable now that still further cuts are necessary because of declining state revenues. Another is his request for a new chemistry building on his campus after the governor explicitly said he wouldn't include any new buildings in the next biennial budget. Still another is this media policy and the debacle that followed.

All of this comes at an awkward time for Bresciani. At a meeting in late June, members of the Board of Higher Education effectively put Bresciani on probation. They postponed renewing his contract, saying they'd revisit the issue in the fall and attaching several conditions.

The message clearly was that Bresciani must clean up his act or expect dismissal.

Of course, President Bresciani could do the right thing before that The Forum suggested.

This seems out of character, though.

So the Board of Higher Education will have a job to do - not only in the interest of a strong, unified system, but also in the interest of honesty.

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Forum Communications Company Publisher, Mark Jacobs. photo by Jenna Watson/Grand Forks Herald

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