- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2018

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Board of Higher Education on Thursday extended the contract for the university system chancellor, after objections from an outgoing board member and complaints about being forced to conduct the business in public.

The board voted 7-1 at Thursday’s meeting in Bismarck to extend Mark Hagerott’s contract through June 2020. Board member Mike Ness, participating in his final meeting, recommended that the decision be delayed for six months because of criticisms of Hagerott from a 2016 staff survey and an ongoing lawsuit by a former employee.

“I think all of us like the chancellor a great deal,” Ness said. “He has a great personality. He’s a great person. But I have some concerns.”

Ness said the board should hold off until it reviews interviews of staff who questioned Hagerott’s management style and until a complaint by former vice chancellor Lisa Feldner is resolved. Feldner was fired by Hagerott last year.

Board member Kathleen Neset said the two-year-old survey has been addressed by the board and a follow-up study conducted by her and board member Don Morton when they were the top two leaders of the group shows that the chancellor made the needed improvements.

“I will say that of all the people I have worked with professionally, I find Chancellor Hagerott to be one of these most approachable and responsive people to constructive criticism to his style of work,” Neset said.

Morton, now the board chairman, said the second survey was a “very informal questionnaire put together rather hastily” to help him and Neset “address some issues that seemed to popping up” within the system office.

“We didn’t want to destroy anybody’s reputation,” Morton said. “We wanted to quietly get some things resolved and that’s what we did.”

Ness said he didn’t think the work done by Morton and Neset was relevant.

“I talked to staff members who did that. The two people I talked to said the people were not honest because they were afraid of retaliation or retribution after the firing of Dr. Feldner,” he said.

Ness also said the board should consider asking the Legislature to change open meetings laws so similar issues could be dealt with behind closed doors. Hagerott agreed and thanked Ness for his “professional civility” in a difficult situation.

“Like Mike said, we can’t do this in public to disparage the staff, which undermines in the front everybody else,” Hagerott said. “That never should happen again.”

Hagerott has been running the university system since July 2015. He’s paid $372,000 annually.

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