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UND vice presidents speak up for Kelley

GRAND FORKS -- Six vice presidents at the University of North Dakota say they welcome a full review of President Robert Kelley because they "respectfully disagree" with his job evaluation, which was written last week by the outgoing chancellor of the North Dakota University System.

Chancellor Hamid Shirvani criticized three campus presidents in their annual evaluations and recommended a full review for Kelley and North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani. He also recommended no raises for Kelley and Minot State University President David Fuller.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the State Board of Higher Education, UND vice presidents listed Kelley's accomplishments and said they collectively recommend he receive "a merit increase and a three-year extension of his contract in support of his dedication and effort." They also wrote that they "endorse" a 360-degree review of Kelley and welcome the opportunity to contribute to that broader view.

The letter was sent by Provost Thomas DiLorenzo and Vice Presidents Alice Brekke, finance and operations; Phyllis Johnson, research and economic development; Lori Reesor, student affairs; Susan Balcom Walton, university and public affairs; and Joshua Wynne, health affairs.


One of the harsher observations Shirvani made against Kelley was that he lacked a vision for leadership and a plan that connected faculty strengths with opportunities in the business and industry sectors.

In the response letter, UND leaders said Kelley's strategic vision was clear. For example, the ideas behind the Exceptional UND initiative capture his intent to elevate the university's academic, educational, research and service missions to the highest possible level, they wrote.

"We can provide many other examples of how President Kelley's leadership and high level of engagement have benefited UND, including the generous support the Legislature recently provided for the new medical school building and law school expansion," they wrote. "President Kelley's quiet humility can at times make it possible to underestimate his accomplishments, but be assured that he is the driving force behind UND's strategic progress."

Kelley works tirelessly to facilitate broad input, transparency and collaboration, and has shown exceptional leadership and vision in the five years he's been president, they wrote.

DiLorenzo said administrators are reviewed in various ways, and while the concept of 360-degree reviews, which involve interviews with everyone in the subject's work circle, is more common in business than in higher education, it's starting to catch on more.

"We embrace the notion that someone could have a review, and not because we think that something negative is happening," he said. "Quite frankly, it's the opposite. I think a review would show in many ways the good things that are happening."

DiLorenzo, who started his position as provost in May, said he was initially drawn to UND because of Kelley's "fantastic" leadership and tremendous opportunities at the university. UND's record of improving and expanding programs created a lot of excitement in him, so it was easy for DiLorenzo and the vice presidents to say, "We don't understand where this is coming from. Our experience has been amazingly positive," he said.