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Published May 08 2010

Where is Joe Chapman?

In a week punctuated by an audit critical of North Dakota State University’s fiscal accountability on building projects, one key voice has remained silent – that of former NDSU President Joseph Chapman.

Chapman, whose roles and responsibilities came up repeatedly in the audit, could not be reached for comment and was largely ignored by auditors who compiled the report.

The former president has kept a low profile since a brief interview with him ran in the Chronicle of Higher Education in January. The audit manager said his team chose not to pursue a follow-up interview with Chapman, assuming they would not make much headway.

“Once he was gone, the idea of calling him and visiting with him didn’t seem productive,” said Gordy Smith, the audit manager. “I suspected it would have been difficult getting ahold of him.”

The Forum attempted to contact Chapman, who has an unlisted number, through his former office Wednesday, the day the state auditor’s office released a report criticizing the university’s handling of building and remodeling projects under Chapman.

On Friday, Executive Assistant Cathy Backer left a voice mail and sent an

e-mail to Chapman on The Forum’s behalf after suggesting he probably wouldn’t be interested in commenting.

Before his departure, Chapman had said he might write a book or do consulting work. It is not clear what he’s focused on since leaving.

“All I know is he’s living somewhere in Colorado,” said Najla Amundson, NDSU’s media relations director, who also tried reaching Chapman on Friday on The Forum’s behalf.

Keith Bjerke, the university’s vice president of public relations and a former Chapman confidant, said he hasn’t talked to Chapman since February. Back then, Bjerke called Chapman asking if he had something to say to alumni at an annual gathering in Arizona.

“ ‘No, I guess I really don’t,’ ” Bjerke said Chapman replied in a phone conversation that lasted two minutes at most.

Smith said he interviewed Chapman in the early phase of the audit, shortly before the former president left Fargo-Moorhead. Auditors usually start their work with such background interviews. Then, after analyzing relevant documents, they follow up with key figures at least once, including, on occasion, former employees.

But “once a person is no longer a state employee, there’s nothing compelling them to visit with us,” Smith said.

To the best of Smith’s knowledge, no one on his team tried contacting Chapman more recently.

In the early interview, Smith said, Chapman stressed he maintained distance from two projects that have generated criticism: the president’s house and a remodel of Chapman’s office.

Based on later interviews and analysis, Smith said, “it would be my feeling he was more involved than what he originally discussed with us.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529