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Herald editorial: Leadership flaws are the chief concern with chancellor

Let's assume North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott did not fire Vice Chancellor Lisa Feldner just to insert a fellow Navy veteran in her position.

In the court of public opinion, that is one of the charges leveled against Hagerott, who last month removed Feldner from office "without cause," as is allowed by North Dakota law.

Further, we believe Hagerott was right for not publicly censuring or reprimanding former UND President Ed Schafer for Schafer's endorsement of candidate, now governor, Doug Burgum prior to the 2016 Republican primary election. When Schafer, a former governor who was serving as interim president at UND, made that endorsement, it went against tradition—but not law—and caused a political ripple in the state. Hagerott says he resisted political pressure to levy some sort of punishment against Schafer.

All of that is relevant now as Hagerott faces a wave of criticism for firing Feldner, inserting fellow Navy veteran James Wisecup in her place, and then claiming the fallout from doing so is related to his decision to not discipline Schafer back in June of 2016.

But again, move past all that.

The biggest problem we see with this controversy is with Hagerott's alleged leadership flaws. Specifically, we refer to an April 2016 letter from his bosses on the State Board of Higher Education.

Although most of Hagerott's professional troubles are based on actions last month (the firing of Feldner) or in June 2016 (the failure to censure Schafer), he received a letter from his board before all of that, telling him he is "headed down a path that needs to be corrected."

Among the points highlighted in the letter are communication skills ("Why aren't you communicating more with the board?") and that he needs to build a better relationship with legislators ("We are hearing that they are starting to avoid you ...").

And, most glaring, the letter says Hagerott must interact better with staff.

"As we discussed last time, you must treat your staff with respect," the letter says. "That includes listening to them and their professional advice, as well as practicing basic leadership skills, such as not referring to their age, gender, marital status, health, weight, political affiliation or personal life in your conversations with them."

To learn he may lack "basic leadership skills" is startling—and puzzling.

Hagerott has asked for an investigation into what he describes as political attempts to sway and besmirch him, but the board has not approved it. Perhaps they feel as we do: That the Feldner and Schafer incidents are the past and that Hagerott's alleged leadership shortcomings will be, and must be, the future.

Hagerott is the head of the university system of North Dakota and he earns $372,000 per year. He is a former Navy captain who oversees all of the state university presidents and therefore thousands of subordinate staff members at lower levels.

To learn he may have leadership shortcomings is the issue that needs more attention than any of the others.

Grand Forks Herald editorial board

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