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Board Extends North Dakota State President’s Contract

FARGO, N.D. —The state Board of Higher Education met behind closed doors for more than two hours Wednesday before deciding that the North Dakota State University president should keep his job.

The board voted during its regular monthly meeting in Bismarck to renew Dean Bresciani’s contract for another year, six months after the board told him he needed to improve his communication, teamwork and decision-making skills. Don Morton, of Fargo, was the only board member to vote against extending the contract.

The action caps a tumultuous 15 months for Bresciani in which he rankled some board members over whether the university should focus on increasing enrollment or boosting graduation rates to meet workforce demands; raised eyebrows by flying business class on a recruiting trip to Indiana; and was investigated for his handling of a controversial plan on media guidelines for athletics. The Board of Higher Education had put on hold its decision on Bresciani’s contract in June.

Alumni and other school boosters have come to Bresciani’s defense, some of whom took out a half-page advertisement in a Fargo newspaper shortly after the board put his contract on hold. An editorial Monday in the NDSU student newspaper urged the board to extend the president’s contract, saying Bresciani’s “experience and leverage” trumps his baggage.

Kathleen Neset, the board chair, on Wednesday credited fellow members for their review of a “serious and substantial issue” involving Bresciani’s performance.

“We talked a little bit about the number of emails and phone calls and interactions we have,” Neset said. “I want to thank all of detractors and the supporters of Dr. Bresciani. We have heard extensively from them.”

Morton didn’t give a reason for voting against Bresciani, but said that there was “no undue pressure” placed on board members.

“There was no internal lobbying,” Morton said. “That hasn’t always been the case within the state board.”

Bresciani was expected to release a statement later Wednesday.

The higher ed board in June voted to approve the contracts of seven of the eight presidents eligible for extensions except for Bresciani. Not long after that, Bresciani became embroiled in another controversy after he rescinded a media guidelines proposal for football. An outside investigator hired by the board determined Bresciani did not violate board policy, but could have communicated better.

His troubles began at the start of the 2015-16 academic year when he said he wanted to boost the university enrollment by about 3,500 students. His comments came as the board was wrestling with ways to improve graduation rates.

Bresciani later upset University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott with the trip to India in which NDSU president flew in business class. Bresciani did not break board policy at the time, Hagerott said, but the chancellor called the expense “an embarrassment” and unacceptable for state-funded travel. The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said it sent the wrong message amid tight budgets.

Bresciani received a mostly positive performance review from Hagerott in June, but the chancellor said he was concerned about Bresciani’s decision to cut a new research initiative. The review also questioned Bresciani’s rapport with Hagerott, the higher education board and senior members of the university system staff.

Minot State University professor Ernst Pijning, the non-voting faculty adviser to the board, urged members to extend Bresciani’s contract, citing “support of faculty as well as students and staff.”

Bresciani was named NDSU president in May 2010. The previous NDSU president, Joseph Chapman, resigned in December 2009 after criticism over his management style and spending habits.

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