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Port: My advice for new NDSU president David Cook? Don't be Dean Bresciani

Be an advocate for NDSU, yes, but don't invite conflict where none is necessary.

05XX22.N.FF.COOKWELCOME
North Dakota State University President David Cook holds a news conference on his first day in office Tuesday, May 17, 2022, outside Old Main, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — North Dakota State University's new president, David Cook, has been on a tour of the state he'll be calling home for the foreseeable future.

I was flattered when he requested a one-on-one meet-up here in Minot while traveling through. During our late lunch, eating french fries and cheese curds at High Third , he asked for some advice. That wasn't unique to me; he's been doing that everywhere he goes.

I obliged. Don't be your predecessor, I told him.

Don't be Dean Bresciani.

That man has been lionized by some. Mainly the Bison football fandom and the reporters who cover it, but those of us in public policy circles remember him as a renewable source of completely unnecessary rancor.

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Dean Bresciani
North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani

We remember him flying back and forth to Bismarck in a private airplane to lecture part-time state lawmakers, who are obliged to drive to the state Capitol from their home districts like peasants, about how they'd been starving his institution for funding. This was at a time when North Dakota was among the nation's leaders in per capita higher education spending.

We remember him allowing a Fargo-area state senator to double-dip on his NDSU and legislative salaries, as well as expense personal luxuries like top-shelf booze and a country club membership.

We remember tens of thousands of Bresciani's emails that were requested by the Legislature mysteriously getting deleted (intentionally, to avoid the requests, said one university system staffer at the time ).

We remember him lying about restricting news media access to NDSU athletics .

Perhaps my favorite anecdote from Bresciani's unhappy tenure as president at NDSU, because of the sheer gall of it, was when he appeared before an interim meeting of the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee back in 2013.

NDSU had received a less than positive audit, which the committee was reviewing, and Bresciani showed up with an entourage to express his disdain. He introduced his people as "doctor" this and "doctor" that and, finally, described one of them as a "rocket scientist" before turning to the lawmakers on the committee and asking, "Are any of you rocket scientists?"

You can't make this stuff up.

Bresciani often seemed to think he was untouchable, ensconced as he was as the head of one of the state's premier public institutions in the state's largest community, surrounded by a sizable legislative delegation, a powerful alumni network, and a rabid football fandom.

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He was until he wasn't. The Board of Higher Education gave him his walking papers a year ago, unceremoniously ending what was, if we're being honest, an ignominious tenure.

Don't get me wrong. NDSU did achieve some very good things under Bresciani, but it was often despite his leadership, and not because of it.

Which brings us back to my advice for Cook: Don't be Bresciani. Be an advocate for NDSU, yes, but don't invite conflict where none is necessary.

And remember, first and foremost, that NDSU belongs to North Dakota, and most North Dakotans don't live in Fargo.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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