Dickinson State University releases survey; HR says results 'discouraging'
By Bryan Horwath
Dickinson State University and North Dakota University System officials have released in full an employee comments section of the 2012 DSU Campus Quality Survey following an open records request by The Dickinson Press in late December.
NDUS Director of Communications Linda Donlin emailed the "non-redacted" version of Section 5 (the only section DSU initially refused to release) of the CQS to The Press on Friday.
The majority of the anonymous DSU employee comments were critical of some aspect of the university while others praised the administration and faculty at the school.
Several complaints among the approximately four dozen comments in Section 5 of the report centered on the DSU human resources department, specifically department coordinator Gail Ebeltoft.
Commenters described the HR department as slow to post job openings and "process complaints" with two comments asking for the removal of Ebeltoft from her position at the university. Ebeltoft said Monday that she has gone over the Section 5 comments.
"It's discouraging and disappointing," Ebeltoft said. "As I went over the comments, it was apparent there wasn't really anything specific in the complaints. If people have specific complaints about things we in the human resources department, I'd be happy to address those."
In an email to The Press Monday, DSU Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Cynthia Pemberton indicated that an email with the unedited comments was also sent out to DSU employees on Friday.
Pemberton said DSU officials were "waiting on advice from the NDUS" prior to releasing what Pemberton classified as the "non-aggregate" data in Section 5 of the report.
The CQS is an internal campus questionnaire aimed at taking the pulse of NDUS campus communities. Following the 2010 versions, the surveys were no longer required by the NDUS. Some schools -- including DSU -- elected to go ahead with a survey in 2012 even though it was no longer funded by the university system. The survey was offered to every DSU employee in October with 96 of the school's 254 employees filling it out.
"I don't understand why the individuals who added these comments about the HR department didn't come to me or my superiors with their concerns," Ebeltoft said. "There is an open door policy here at DSU. Some of the comments in Section 5 were personal attacks on me. There is a difference between something like that and constructive criticism."
In another email to DSU staff, Pemberton laid out plans to develop a campus committee that would be charged with going over the results of the survey -- which was conducted by the consulting firm Performance Horizons -- and bringing forth recommendations on how DSU can improve in areas that were listed as concerns in the report. Pemberton asks for volunteers in the email.
Ebeltoft said she served on a similar committee that went over the 2010 CQS results and that she would be interested in doing so again for the pending committee.
The CQS is broken down into eight sub-categories with Performance Horizons then compiling the information from the survey into a scoring system and, finally, making recommendations to the institution for specific areas of improvement. Since the inception of the bi-annual CQS in 2002, the 2012 results represented the poorest results from DSU in nearly every category.
In an email to DSU staff signed by Pemberton, she acknowledged the overall poor marks saying the "ratings are not where they can and will be," but also noted "many cases reflect uncertainty more than negativity."
On Monday, Pemberton deferred questions from The Press about the report to DSU President D.C. Coston and university spokesperson Marie Moe. Messages for Coston and Moe were not returned as of Monday evening. When asked about the report in his office Dec. 21, Coston said he had not seen it.
DSU made news in 2011 and 2012 following concerns over the artificial inflation of enrollment numbers and accusations of fraud. The controversy led to the firing of former DSU president Richard McCallum following a series of NDUS hearings before an administrative law judge. Ebeltoft was one of 10 witnesses who testified on McCallum's behalf during the hearings.
"There have been problems in the past here at DSU, but I think we've made tremendous headway as a university and in my department," said DSU International and Multicultural Programs Coordinator Nicholas Mahan. "We've made a lot of positive changes. We only accept verified documents now in an effort to better guard against fraud. I think Dr. Coston is doing an excellent job -- he's very involved as a president. When McCallum was here, I never even saw him. I think we're moving in the right direction."