Senator questions future of UND research center amid director’s leave
GRAND FORKS — North Dakota Sen. Connie Triplett, the wife of longtime Energy and Environmental Research Center director Gerald Groenewold, said they are concerned about the future of the institution now that Groenewold has been put on paid administrative leave.
Triplett, D-Grand Forks, wrote a letter to the editor published in today’s Grand Forks Herald. In it, she describes the culture of the EERC, an applied research, development and commercialization facility that Groenewold has directed since 1987.
She wrote that any attempt to integrate the EERC into an academic department of the University of North Dakota would be “fatal to the vision” because “the academic portion of the university has an entirely different set of realities and demands.” She noted in a phone interview, however, that she doesn’t know if UND is preparing to take that action, and she is speculating based on previous interactions with UND and the lack of information regarding Groenewold’s leave that she said they’ve received over the past few days.
“I just thought, well, maybe they were planning to completely restructure the place and it was easier with Gerry out of the way because they knew he would push back against that,” Triplett said.
UND spokesman Peter Johnson said there are no “preconceived plans” to change the structure of the EERC, but declined to say why Groenewold is on leave.
Johnson said consultants will be looking at EERC finances to try to find ways to reduce its roughly $1.1 million deficit, which Johnson said was a directive from the State Board of Higher Education during an April meeting.
Groenewold said he was handed a letter written by UND President Robert Kelley on Monday morning notifying him he was being put on paid administrative leave. The letter directs any questions about the leave to Kelley, but as of Thursday afternoon, Groenewold said he has not heard from the president.
Triplett pointed to previous efforts to develop more internal partnerships with UND as one reason she said UND could be changing the organization’s structure. Groenewold’s performance reviews over the years mention strengthening relationships with UND, of which EERC is a part.
“It is my judgment that the increased engagement that you have developed between the EERC and UND has strengthened the missions of both organizations,” Kelley wrote to Groenewold in 2012. “It is clear that we must continue these commitments for the benefit of the EERC and the university.”
Groenewold said Thursday that the EERC has done internships with UND students and works with faculty, but said the EERC has a much different culture than the academic world of UND.
Triplett wrote that the EERC is supported entirely by revenue from clients, including competitively awarded government contracts and private companies. Groenewold said 95 percent of its contracts last year were from the private sector.
“Our culture is business, it’s not academic,” Groenewold said.
Groenewold said Thursday he has hired an attorney in an effort to communicate with UND about his leave.