Port: Golden parachute for fired NDSU president casts a long shadow amid a budget shortfall

"A lavish compensation package given to former NDSU President Dean Bresciani is a drain on the school's resources at a time when it can ill be afforded."

Dean Bresciani
North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani
File photo

MINOT, N.D. — With North Dakota's lawmakers in session in Bismarck, higher education officials are in the process of negotiating new budgets with them.

That's always a fraught exercise, but this year the situation is particularly acute in Fargo, at North Dakota State University, where the newly hired president David Cook is facing a $7.6 million budget shortfall .

That situation is prompting some dramatic budget cuts. The school is looking to reduce its academic colleges from seven to five. About two dozen degree programs are on the chopping block. The athletics budget may be trimmed as much as $200,000.

Yet former NDSU President Dean Bresciani, whose administration contributed mightily to this budget shortfall per recent testimony before a legislative committee, continues to enjoy his lavish golden parachute.

As I reported in July , Bresciani continued to receive his full salary — more than $371,000 per year — until just last month despite exiting that position in May.


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 last year, the former president spent 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.

Bresciani claims to be developing two new courses, one called the Modern College Presidency; the other on the History of Higher Education. 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.

According to NDSU media relations coordinator Brynn Rawlings, since Jan. 1, Bresicani has been collecting a $165,000 annual salary, but he's not exactly on the job yet. Per the above timeline, he won't commence teaching these courses until the fall semester.

Meanwhile, NDSU faces a financial crisis, and while being questioned by state lawmakers on a House Appropriations subcommittee, university system Chancellor Mark Hagerott indicated that Bresciani's administration was a big part of the current problem.

Rep. Bob Martinson, a Republican from Bismarck, said that President Cook had been "stunned" by the grim financial situation at NDSU when he got started on the job, and questioned Hagerott about why more hadn't been done to clue Cook into what was going on.

Hagerott indicated that the scope of the problem wasn't clear to his office either. Though he didn't name Bresciani, he cited problems "getting information" from the president at the time. He also claimed that Bresciani's administration had gone on a hiring spree on the way out the door, adding 30 to 40 people to the university's payroll.

Keep in mind that the North Dakota University System was under no obligation to pay Bresciani anything. His contract ended last year, and the State Board of Higher Education simply opted to hire someone new instead of renewing it.

He was given a lavish make-work gig, and a lengthy paid vacation, even while being uncooperative with Hagerott and his staff, and while his administration took steps to exacerbate NDSU's budget headaches.


That Bresciani's bounty is on the minds of lawmakers seemed clear from the questioning of Hagerott. Martinson inquired as to whether Bresciani was getting a vehicle and housing allowance in addition to his salary. Martinson told me after the meeting that he learned Bresciani is not receiving either, something Rawlings also confirmed.

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Still, NDSU is shedding academic programs and faculty in an attempt to make ends meet, all while the former president, who was infamous for being belligerently uncooperative, who contributed mightily to the school's financial difficulties, rakes in big pay for what is, if we're being honest, so much make-work.

That should spark outrage.

All the more so because, in making this bad deal, Hagerott and the State Board of Higher Education were clearly trying to placate NDSU's sometimes toxic football fandom. While Bresciani was a poor administrator for NDSU, he was popular among the football fans, many of whom were outraged by his dismissal.

Bresciani's golden parachute was a way to quiet those critics, and while that motivation might be understandable, if frustrating, it doesn't change the fact that Bresciani continues to be a financial drain on a school that can ill afford it.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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