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April Baumgarten, Dustin Monke and Dain Sullivan, Published February 10 2012

Dickinson State dean found dead in apparent suicide

DICKINSON, N.D. – A search for a missing Dickinson State University dean came to a tragic end Friday when officials found his body in a park a few blocks north of the university.

Doug LaPlante, 59, dean of the College of Education, Business and Applied Sciences, apparently shot himself before being pronounced dead at the scene at about 1:23 p.m., according to a Dickinson Police Department release.

LaPlante had been with the university since 1991. His death came on the same day the school revealed an auditor’s report depicted the school as a diploma mill for foreign students.

“Doug was the first person at DSU I got to know when I came to North Dakota,” DSU President D.C. Coston said in a statement. “I found him to be person of deep care and unquestionable integrity. He had a deep and abiding commitment to Dickinson State and to our students.”

Police were contacted by a university staff member at 9:27 a.m. Friday after LaPlante had uncharacteristically missed a meeting, according to the police news release.

Officers responded to LaPlante’s residence in the 600 block of Ninth Avenue West, close to campus.

An investigation revealed LaPlante had left his home on foot without his cell phone or identification. The police also determined that a large-caliber rifle was missing from the home.

Police said because LaPlante was believed to be distraught, faculty, staff and non-residential students were asked to leave the campus immediately, while students who live on campus were asked to return to their dormitories.

Coston planned to meet with students at Klinefelter Hall at 1 p.m. Friday about the audit report that said DSU had awarded hundreds of degrees to foreign students who didn’t earn them, signed up students who couldn’t speak English and enrolled a handful without qualifying grades.

Coston told students he would discuss the matter at another time, asking students not to go on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook.

No one else was believed to be involved, DPD Capt. Joe Cianni said.

“People have nothing to fear,” he said.

Former DSU President Leland Vickers said in a phone interview from Phoenix that he worked with LePlante while he was president from 1999 to 2008. He was “dumbfounded” when he heard the news.

“Doug was a very dedicated, very serious professional,” he said. “It’s unbelievable this would occur.”

Police did not state a reason for LaPlante’s actions. An investigation is ongoing.

April Baumgarten, Dustin Monke and Dain Sullivan write for the Dickinson Press.