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Emails show pattern of frustration and poor morale at UND

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Faculty and staff at the University of North Dakota feel the campus needs healing and were worried about the future in the days before a new interim president was appointed.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Faculty and staff at the University of North Dakota feel the campus needs healing and were worried about the future in the days before a new interim president was appointed.

In the time between the announcement of UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo and former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer as finalists for the position and the selection of Schafer, several UND employees emailed their faculty adviser Eric Murphy, who serves as a nonvoting member of the State Board of Higher Education.

The emails, obtained via open records request, tell a story of a morale problem and as Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Gaye Burgess put it, "the poorest climate in the history of the university."

Murphy told the board before the vote that faculty had problems with both candidates; DiLorenzo because it would be difficult to lead the faculty who are unhappy with him and Schafer because of his lack of experience in higher education.

Murphy also conveyed what many of the emails reflect: some faculty wondered why Bruce Smith, the outgoing dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, or Dennis Elbert, the former dean of the College of Business and Public Administration, weren't nominees.

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SBHE Chancellor Mark Hagerott said they weren't chosen because he wanted them to remain in their current roles on campus.

In interviews, Murphy said he felt he did his job in conveying the concerns of faculty though he wished the board had taken action earlier with UND's morale problem.

"At the June 2014 SBHE retreat, I strongly voiced concerns regarding faculty morale at UND and the Board was aware of the eroding confidence of the faculty in higher administration at UND," Murphy told the Herald. "I wish the Board had taken action then to work to alleviate faculty concerns, but as a whole, the Board appeared to have little interest in addressing the issue."

Some faculty reached out to Murphy in emails, voicing worry over DiLorenzo's possible appointment.

"Going with DiLorenzo will plunge us into chaos way worse than we've seen over the past six months," associate professor of aviation Jim Higgins wrote.

In an interview, Higgins said he was happy with Schafer's appointment because of his reputation as a peacemaker.

"In the last couple of years the tone and tenor of things has changed," Higgins said. "That coincided with the arrival of the provost."

Valerie Krogstad retired in July from the UND Nursing Department and said she wouldn't recommend DiLorenzo, either.

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"I would like to recommend that former Governor Ed Schafer be given that position," she wrote in an email. "He would be a much better person to lead UND at this time when we need someone who truly cares about UND."

Murphy said he has never had a problems with DiLorenzo's management style.

"But that's not the point," he said. "There are people who are off the record who have talked to me about it, people in the administration, who aren't happy either. It's not just this renegade faculty group."

Some faculty emailed Murphy in surprise or opposition to both candidates and generally expressed concern they had no input in choosing the interim president.

"I would think, in my humble opinion, the UND University Senate might have been on their list if they were really interested in reaching out to faculty," Burgess wrote in an email.

In an interview, Sociology Professor Curtis Stofferahn, a former member of the senate executive committee who worked with DiLorenzo directly, said he has never had an issue with the provost. However, Stofferahn said he was surprised DiLorenzo was named as a finalist given the results of a May survey that showed more than 70 percent of the 359 faculty who took it thought the provost's office was "not at all" or "not very" open or transparent, something he voiced in an email to Murphy.

Higgins was one of the four faculty who put their name to the satisfaction survey and also added he was surprised by DiLorenzo's nomination given its results.

"For whatever reason the message got sidetracked that there were a few that were disgruntled faculty out there, but it was hundreds who took that survey," he said.

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Others wrote both in email and on the campus message board FacTalk that campus morale needs to be restored.

"UND needs someone who can heal the divide," Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Sue Jeno wrote.

In an interview Friday, she said change of any kind is often difficult and communication will be important as the search for the new president continues.

"It's a matter of working through this and being collaborative," Jeno said. "I hope that will happen."

Higgins said Schafer, who takes office when President Robert Kelley retires in January, will be in the unique position to boost morale and set the stage for the new president.

"There are great people at UND," he said. "We have some fantastic administrators but I think a lot of us feel there are some transparency and trust issues."

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