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DSU has drop in staff satisfaction: Results of survey show employees want training, leadership improvement

Dickinson State University has room for improvement, according to the results of a recent internal campus quality survey.

The anonymous employee survey and subsequent report by Performance Horizons was completed and sent to DSU last month, according to the Wisconsin consulting firm. An edited version of the full report was released to The Press from DSU on Thursday, despite requests for the full report.

Out of 254 DSU employees -- all of which were eligible to participate in the survey conducted in October -- 96 completed the questionnaire. From the previous survey in 2010, the percentage of individuals who reported they were "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their employment at DSU dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent, the lowest combined percentage since the bi-annual surveys began in 2002.

When asked their "overall impression of quality" at DSU, 24 percent of survey-takers indicated the university was "below average" or "inadequate," also the highest percentage for both categories in the survey's existence.

The report listed five "programs, services and activities" that received high marks for "commitment to providing exemplary services to students and others who use their services." Singling out "computer information systems and services, maintenance and custodial services, library and learning resources, payroll services and cafeteria and food services," the report indicated those working in the five previously listed areas "should be commended for their commitment to providing exemplary services to students and others."

When asked for reaction to the results of the CQS during a phone call Thursday evening and a conversation in his office Friday, DSU President Dr. D.C. Coston said DSU's Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Cynthia Pemberton is the person in control of the documents.

"I have not seen it," Coston said of the report. "It's been floating around several places. We've been advised by our legal counsel to wait until they have time to review it and to see what's appropriate to release under the open records law. At times, there have been different interpretations of what's in (the Century Code) and we're waiting for full guidance from our legal counsel."

Carrying over from problems that were first detected in 2011, issues involving DSU's artificial inflation of enrollment numbers reverberated through the campus earlier this year. The problems happened under the watch of former DSU president Richard McCallum, who was removed from his position at the school after a series of hearings.

DSU is "on notice" with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, an organization responsible for the accreditation of more than 10,000 colleges and universities in 19 states.

Although previous versions of the CQS obtained by The Press, including the 2010 report, were received in full, the 2012 version was delivered with faculty, administration and department names left blank in the comments section.

DSU spokesperson Marie Moe said the university is withholding certain aspects of the "non-aggregate" data in Section 5 -- which contains the comments portion of the survey -- of the report due to legal concerns. Moe also indicated there is more than one version of the report.

North Dakota Newspaper Association legal counsel Jack McDonald said the Century Code states that records held by public entities are public records unless there is a state law that provides otherwise. The Press has placed an open records request for the complete survey.

"No provision is listed under the open records law to protect what DSU officials indicated were 'non-aggregate' data," McDonald said. "Under state law, a request for records denial must provide legal authority for the denial."

Calls and emails to Pemberton by The Press Thursday and Friday had not been returned as of Friday evening. When asked face-to-face while leaving May Hall on Friday, Pemberton did not respond to questions.

Both Moe and Coston indicated Thursday that the first time they were made aware of the report was "last week," though Performance Horizons Vice President Jo Hillman said survey results were sent out to DSU from her company's office on Nov. 23.

Moe said the report was sent to DSU staff Thursday evening. According to an email sent to DSU staff from DSU, "you will note section 5 (the non-aggregate qualitative data) is not attached." The email also asked for volunteers to serve on a CQS committee.

Based on eight quality categories, the survey indicated DSU showed performance gaps -- which subtracts a figure for how employees rate "how it is now" on campus from "how it should be" -- increases in all categories.

The eight categories are measurement and analysis, quality, employee training and recognition, quality assurance, top management leadership and support, employee empowerment, customer focus and strategic planning.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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