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Dave Roepke, Published October 15 2009

Lawmakers’ reaction to resignation mixed

Is it a comeuppance or a catastrophe?

John Andrist sees Joseph Chapman’s resignation as president of North Dakota State University as the expected end to an overly enabled ego.

“The guy thought he was the second coming. I can understand why,” said Andrist, a Republican state senator from Crosby who sits on the Senate Higher Education Committee.

State Sen. Tim Flakoll describes Chapman’s decision in starkly different terms – a shocking, unneeded step that brought Flakoll an “overwhelming sadness.”

“I’m just at a loss for words in many respects. It was, you know, a jaw-dropping stunner,” said Flakoll, a Republican from Fargo who is vice chairman of the Higher Education Committee, director of operations for NDSU Downtown and provost for the Tri-College University.

In more than a decade at NDSU, Chapman emerged as a polarizing figure at the Capitol. Naturally, reaction there to his Wednesday announcement was divided.

Flakoll said history will focus on Chapman’s legacy, not on his missteps.

“He was truly a transformational president. His mark will be left on the community and the state for generations and generations,” Flakoll said.

Andrist and Rep. Bob Skarphol, chairman of the Higher Education Committee, said they recognize that Chapman has been an effective leader. But both said he had to go.

“It’s so obvious that he got carried away with his own ego and thought he could do just about anything that he felt like doing,” Andrist said. “In a way, I feel sorry for him. So many people enabled him.”

Skarphol said he was planning to ask for Chapman’s resignation because of the cost overruns on the house being built for him.

“Either the man was arrogant to the extent that he did not think he was touchable, or he was incompetent. In either case, he needed to leave,” he said.

Flakoll said those issues could have been worked out and said he didn’t get a single complaint about the situation from either citizens or students.

Gov. John Hoeven played it down the middle. Spokesman Don Canton said the governor regrets both the excessive spending and the resignation to which it led.

“The whole situation’s unfortunate,” Canton said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535