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Amy Dalrymple, Published October 16 2009

Chapman focuses on future

President Joseph Chapman thanked students Thursday from the staircase of the new house that sparked controversy leading up to his resignation.

He told students who packed the main floor that they “made his presidency” and had a profound impact on North Dakota State University.

“Everything that we’ve done at this institution, we’ve tried to always keep the students at the front of that,” Chapman said, with wife, Gale, by his side. “You have reciprocated by making this one of the great universities. You just need to know how much we appreciate it.”

More than 600 students stopped by the president’s house for an open house event that was scheduled before Chapman announced his resignation Wednesday.

It turned into an opportunity for students to talk to Chapman for the first time since they heard the news.

Girish Uprety, one of many international students in attendance, told Chapman he can’t leave.

“We’ll do our best, whatever we can, to get him to stay,” said Uprety, a construction management major from Nepal.

But Chapman, in an interview earlier Thursday, said he planned to resign next spring and sped up his announcement due to recent distractions.

“After the last (legislative) session, I had pretty well made the decision that this was going to be my last year here,” he said.

Chapman, in his 11th year at NDSU, said he has accomplished many of the things he set out to, including increasing enrollment, establishing a technology park, expanding research activity and adding new doctoral programs.

“This is a great time for me to do this. The institution really is operating at another level,” Chapman said. “We’ve got a remarkable group of vice presidents in place. They’re going to be able to carry the institution through this transition beautifully.”

Chapman said he hasn’t been stressed by recent criticism, but he was concerned about the distraction the controversy was creating for NDSU.

“I’ve been through lots of controversies,” Chapman said. “This goes with being a president. Presidents are public officials living in a fishbowl, essentially.”

Cost overruns on the president’s house have been at the heart of the controversy. In recent days, some have also criticized the $50,000 salary Gale Chapman earns from the NDSU Development Foundation, and a $22,000 family trip to Washington, D.C., also paid for by the foundation.

“Mistakes have been made, I’m a human being,” Chapman said. “But I’m not going to dwell on that. I’m looking forward now, not back.”

Gale Chapman said the decision to leave NDSU was a difficult one.

“We’ve just been very happy. We’re fortunate, grateful for the opportunity,” she said. “This was a dream, a storybook presidency.”

Less than 24 hours after news of his resignation, Chapman said he already received calls from other universities searching for a new president.

Chapman, 67, said he hasn’t ruled out another presidency, but said he is most interested in doing consulting, such as working with other universities through a transition to Division I athletics.

He also wants to write a book on senior leadership of an institution.

“Retirement is not something I can do,” Chapman said.

Chapman said he and Gale are thinking about relocating to Colorado or somewhere in the Intermountain West.

“We love the mountains and all that,” Chapman said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t be coming back to visit lifelong friends.”

Students are planning a rally to show appreciation for Chapman at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the student union.

The student rally three years ago that convinced Chapman to withdraw as a finalist for the University of Wyoming presidency is the highlight of his tenure, he said.

“I’ve been at five different institutions and I’ve never seen students like these,” Chapman said. “They are just remarkable.”

Some students attended Thursday’s open house event out of curiosity about the new house. They got to tour the main floor and the backyard of the residence, with some students feeling the upholstery of the chairs and others peeking inside the refrigerator.

“I don’t know if it’s worth what it cost, but it’s nice,” said Cody Frauenberg, a senior majoring in agriculture engineering.

The turnout was another indication of how well Chapman connects with students, said Prakash Mathew, vice president for student affairs.

“You can see from this, his success is based on the relationship with the students,” he said.

When Chapman sits down with student leaders every two weeks, it’s not to chat, but to involve them in the important decisions, Mathew said.

Right from freshman orientation, Chapman tells students they should call him Joe and stop and talk to him when they see him taking his nightly walk around campus.

Students recognize the contributions Chapman has made, and many are still sad and shocked about his resignation, said Amber Altstadt, student body president.

“It’s the end of an era that really made NDSU what it is right now,” Altstadt said.

Gale Chapman said developing relationships with students also was a highlight for her.

An annual event the Chapmans host is a Thanksgiving dinner for international students, where they have traditional foods and explain the holiday.

“If they get to know us one on one, which is what we try to do, I think it makes it like family,” Chapman said.

Though many are asking Chapman to stay, he didn’t waver from his decision Thursday.

His spokeswoman, Najla Amundson, said she doesn’t expect Chapman to change his mind.

“He’s not going to be the Brett Favre of presidents,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590