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Port: Public records show Democratic legislative candidate was dismissed from UND for having romantic relationship with a student

Jacqueline Hoffarth.jpg
Jacqueline Hoffarth
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MINOT, N.D. -- Jacqueline "Jackie" Hoffarth is a social worker and Democratic candidate from Grand Forks running for the North Dakota House of Representatives in District 18.

She was also at the center of controversy at the University of North Dakota over a relationship with a student while a member of the faculty there.

Unfortunately, previous efforts to shed light on that situation have been unfruitful, but I have obtained public records from UND, which give a clearer picture of what happened.

In early February, the Grand Forks Herald attempted to report on this situation, but Hoffarth stonewalled them.

She initially refused to return calls for comment .

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When she did finally respond to the paper's inquiries, after announcing her candidacy for the Legislature, she issued a terse and self-serving statement with few details. "On Monday, Feb. 24, Hoffarth told Forum News Service the complaint was submitted to the board by former UND colleagues who alleged that a relationship between Hoffarth and a social work graduate student was unethical," the Herald reported. "Hoffarth said the student was not under her supervision in any way. She also said she completely disagrees with any allegations of improper behavior."

"Hoffarth said she resigned her role at the university last year under her own volition because of 'personal differences' with other faculty members," the report continues.

As I wrote at the time , someone running for public office owes voters a more fulsome explanation than that.

I obtained the records from a reader -- a relative of one of Hoffarth's students disappointed with her job performance -- and verified them with UND spokesman David Dodds.

The documents, which you can read in full below, paint a very different picture of Hoffarth's departure from UND than what the candidate has presented to the public.

For one thing, while Hoffarth claims her departure from UND was her choice, but on Aug. 27, 2019, Kenneth Flanagan, chair of the university's social work department, wrote in a letter to Hoffarth that she was being "terminated for adequate cause."

That cause being a romantic relationship between Hoffarth and a student, which upset several of Hoffarth's colleagues at UND.

An excerpt from Flanagan's letter which begins on page 38 of the PDF embedded below:

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EMBED: Excerpt from Flanagan letter about Jackie Hoffarth

Hoffarth's relationship with the student was first reported to UND in November of 2018. She confessed to developing romantic feelings for this student, which was the appropriate thing to do per UND policy, and the response was to create a management plan for the situation, which included, due to legal and ethical concerns, Hoffarth having no further contact with the student.

But in August 2019, days after the student graduated, Hoffarth posted a Facebook status stating she was "in a relationship" with this student.

The post was seen by Hoffarth's colleagues at UND and prompted Flanagan to look into the situation, at which point he found that Hoffarth hadn't abided by the management plan.

In mid-September 2019, Hoffarth filed a grievance appealing her dismissal (page 13 of the PDF).

Nancy Yon, an assistant attorney general and general counsel for UND, responded to Hoffarth's appeal with a detailed report of the situation (page 49), which concludes that not only did Hoffarth carry on a romantic relationship with a student, ignoring the management plan put in place by UND, this student was, despite Hoffarth's statements to the contrary, under her supervision.

An excerpt from Yon's report:

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EMBED: Nancy Yon Report Excerpt

The result of that process was a resignation agreement (page 42) between Hoffarth and UND dated to late November of last year, which, though characterized by Hoffarth as being voluntary, states that she was "allowed to resign."

In addition to concerns over Hoffarth's romantic involvement with a student, the records contain several comments from students about Hoffarth's performance as an instructor. The students said Hoffarth's grading was slow and erratic, and that she often told them details from her personal life as an excuse for delays.

One student told Flanagan that Hoffarth "wasn't around much," adding that they had "zero confidence she really read the work we did."

In the documents below, you can read many other comments from students about Hoffarth's performance as a member of UND's faculty, and they're not flattering.

Today, Hoffarth is asking the voters of District 18 to give her a job in Bismarck. One which requires diligence, integrity, honesty and good judgment.

Based on what Hoffarth initially told us about her departure from UND, and what's been revealed subsequently, can we believe she has those qualifications?

Two Republicans currently represent District 18 -- Sen. Scott Meyer and Rep. Steve Vetter -- as well as Democratic Rep. Corey Mock.

All of the incumbents are running for re-election. Mock is joined on the ballot by Hoffarth and Senate candidate Kyle Thorson.

House candidate Cindy Kaml joins Vetter and Meyer on the NDGOP ticket.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

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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