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Port: Fired NDSU president enjoying a lavishly compensated sabbatical before beginning professorship

Dean Bresciani will continue receiving his more than $371,000 annual salary while on sabbatical and won't begin his full professorship until the fall 2023 semester.

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President Dean Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University, gives his State of the University address Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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MINOT, N.D. — Can you imagine your employers paying you to sit around for 15 months and think about the job you're going to do? All while collecting a full paycheck?

That's the gig former North Dakota State University president Dean Bresciani finds himself in after getting fired by the state Board of Higher Education.

The board, which has a track record of doling out sumptuous golden parachutes to departing leaders in the system , has agreed to allow Bresciani to transition to a "distinguished full professorship" with tenure. The terms of that transition are so generous they'll make your eyes water, not least because it begins with a lengthy sabbatical.

Or "vacation," as we peasants who work in the private sector call it. At least, that's what it is in this context. Sabbaticals are important for actual academics doing real research.

In this context, it's a payoff for a high-level bureaucrat who got canned.

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Per a timeline proposed by Bresciani and approved by the higher ed board, which I obtained through an open records request, starting on May 17 of this year, the former president is spending six months "reading the current literature" relevant to courses he'll be teaching on higher education finance and the organization and administration of higher education.

He also says he'll be developing two new courses, one called the Modern College Presidency; the other on the History of Higher Education.

He claims the former will be a "high demand course." Because the NDSU campus is just packed with people wanting to learn how to be a college president, apparently.

In months six through nine, Bresciani says he'll be working on syllabi for these courses.

In months nine through 12, he'll be working on "scholarly writing" about being a college president.

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At that point, in the spring of 2023, his yearlong sabbatical will be over, just in time for summer vacation. Bresciani says he'll be ready to teach for the fall 2023 semester.

Bresciani will be well compensated during his sabbatical, too. He'll continue collecting his university president salary — just over $371,000 annually - through December 2022, when he gets a faculty contract. Board of Higher Education spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorious said it wasn't clear what his faculty pay level would be.

He'll also enjoy on-campus housing and a vehicle paid for by the NDSU foundation. If that surprises you, it shouldn't. The foundation has paid for many luxuries for Bresciani, including sheets and pillows for his bed. But that use of money is perhaps a topic for another column.

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I think the question we have to ask, in light of this information, is why?

Why would the taxpayers and students of North Dakota be asked to pay for all this?

It's not because there is some unmet demand for courses covering how to be a college president.

This stuff is make-work.

This is the board paying off Bresciani to go quietly. Even his sabbatical should rightly be seen as a way to get him away from the NDSU campus so that his replacement, David Cook, can have some room to do his job.

But maybe we need to ask why the state Board of Higher Education so often needs to reach deep into the pockets of taxpayers and students to pay people they hire to go away?

Having left you with that question, I'm off to ask my bosses if I can spend the next 15 months sitting around reading stuff and thinking about doing my job.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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