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Kate Haugen, Published June 16 2013

Letter: Textbook case of organizational politics at its depressing worst

Watching the actions of the State Board of Higher Education and the related developments at the North Dakota University System over the past year has been not only fascinating but also depressing. It was fascinating in the sense that we witnessed a truly textbook case of organizational politics at its worst. It was depressing in the sense that we observed not only the wrong fit for the chancellor’s position, but even more embarrassing was that some of our own North Dakota lawmakers and State Board of Higher Education leaders – who we would expect to understand the North Dakota culture – used arrogant and uninformed statements as to what is best for higher education and imposed mandated changes with little input or thoughtful processing.

To claim that the North Dakota University System now cannot improve due to the chancellor leaving is ludicrous. And that there is resistance to change is also inaccurate and offensive. What there is resistance to is heavy-handed change without collaboration.

The faculty and staff at the 11 institutions of the NDUS care deeply about ongoing improvement, offering the best education possible and doing so as partners with all stakeholders. The intimidation, bullying and secrecy that played out over the past 12 months are not the way to build trust and strong working relationships.

The citizens of North Dakota and the students of the NDUS deserve open, transparent and knowledgeable decision makers to ensure that a quality educational opportunity exists at each campus. The day-to-day operations of the colleges and universities involve enormous complexities that are managed with the expertise of dedicated individuals who deserve to be consulted when change is suggested from a governing group.

Again, this is not a resistance to governance but rather resistance to governance that is not participatory. One legislator condemned the “inappropriate and unfair beating” given the chancellor. Little similar concern was evident for the students, faculty and staff of the universities who have been disregarded in the planning for the future of higher education in the state.

Lessons, hopefully, have been learned from this experience and must be acknowledged and used in moving forward. It is time to walk the talk in building relationships, renewing trust and requiring collegiality, collaboration and civility for a healthy, productive and exemplary system for post-secondary education in North Dakota.


Haugen lives in Fargo.