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UND's Schafer defends Burgum endorsement, claims lawmakers threaten retribution

GRAND FORKS -- Ed Schafer said some North Dakota legislators have come close to crossing a line. On Tuesday, the UND interim president said he has been told state lawmakers have contacted the North Dakota University System Office to complain abou...

GRAND FORKS -- Ed Schafer said some North Dakota legislators have come close to crossing a line.

On Tuesday, the UND interim president said he has been told state lawmakers have contacted the North Dakota University System Office to complain about his decision to endorse Doug Burgum, a Republican candidate for governor.

"Legislators have called the university system office and in my opinion threatened retribution and I think that is so bad," Schafer said. "If we have legislators who, because the political system forces you to choose one person over another, are going to be vindictive on budgets or students or tuition that is the worst kind of politics there is."

In an interview with the Herald, Schafer said he disagreed with an editorial by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which called his endorsement "a blatant violation of tradition."

"The whole concept of me stepping on or violating years or tradition makes no sense to me," Schafer said.

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Last week, Schafer told the Herald editorial board that he planned to vote for Burgum and officially endorsed him in a campaign video released Monday on YouTube. University presidents in North Dakota haven't historically supported candidates for public office.

"Why is it that unorthodox?," Schafer said. "I don't get it."

Republicans Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Sen. John Hoeven, who served as North Dakota's governor after Schafer, have endorsed Burgum's opponent, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, in the June 14 primary.

University presidents should get involved in politics and he wouldn't be afraid to call out legislators who use his endorsement as an excuse for retribution against UND or the university system, Schafer said.

"We turn to academia for input on public policy but then say 'Oh by the way, a president shouldn't talk about politics?'" Schafer said. "Maybe if they were more engaged we'd have a better relationship between the government and university system."

There are no policies or laws prohibiting Schafer, who has been UND's interim leader since January, from endorsing a candidate, something he said he made sure of before accepting the job. Schafer said he was careful not to use university facilities or supplies in his endorsement and "made it clear it was just Ed Schafer."

Schafer also received approval to comment politically from North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott, something State Board of Higher Education spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius verified Tuesday.

Schafer pointed out SBHE Vice Chairman Don Morton publically supports Burgum and called the Forum editorial, which notes the State Board of Higher Education hasn't commented on the development, "silly" and "speculative."

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"If there is going to be backlash or vindictiveness to the university system or the University of North Dakota I am totally ready to engage in the pubic process of championing our education system," Schafer said.

Schafer served as the state's governor in the 1990s and said ever since it has been his policy not to engage in a race before candidates receive endorsement from the Republican Party.

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
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