Amid coronavirus, new presidents sign on

Amid coronavirus, new presidents sign on

We’re here for the duration, say Easton, Jensen


The State Board of Higher Education met this week through video teleconferencing due to social distancing requirements of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak nationwide. This made for a first for the Board, as it had previously always conducted final interviews face-to-face.

While some issues existed from the high amount of individuals calling in or watching via live stream, the Board continued on with business. Professional staff at connecting campuses successfully maneuvered through them with issues such as a higher-than-normal live stream audience and a demand on the bandwidth.

Board Chair Nick Hacker convened the meeting and noted that it was historic times, adding that there were likely to be some “hiccups” in the day’s meeting, but the Board and campuses should be able to handle anything that came up.

The morning’s agenda was run by Bismarck State College Presidential Search Co-Chairs, Board member Tim Mihalick and BSC Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Dan Leingang. The two conducted the interviews via video teleconference, which included questions that followed a similar format for each of the three candidates – Dr. Clark Harris, Dr. Douglas Jensen and Dr. Philip Klein.

The full scope of the interviews can be found here.

After interviews concluded, the SBHE moved to executive session to consider the appointment of and contract terms for the new presidents. Following the session, the Board formally moved to extend an offer to Dr. Douglas Jensen, who accepted.

Also up on the Board’s agenda was a proposal to waive requirements relating to hiring a permanent president, in this instance for Dickinson State University. Stephen D. Easton, J.D., has been serving in the role of interim president since earlier this year, and many at DSU and throughout the system had recommended that he be formally named as president.

During its teleconference interview of Easton, the Board asked questions regarding his outlook for the university. Ultimately, the Board decided unanimously to go with the recommendations from DSU and hire Easton as the president of the university.


Regular business

Board member Kathleen Neset brought forward the Audit Committee recommendations, including an NDSU performance audit. She said there was also a presentation on the audit process and a compliance update. Neset stated that previously announced audits had been allowed to be postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Board member Don Morton brought up the Governance Committee recommendations, including the addition of a more in-depth evaluation of presidents every few years in addition to the current annual evaluations.

Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Lisa Johnson brought forward a request for honorary degrees. University of North Dakota and NDSU each submitted individuals they recommended to receive honorary degrees. Johnson also brought forward a request to waive ACT/SAT policies in lieu of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those policies are 402.1 (paragraph 3(b)), 402.1 (paragraph 1), and 402.2 (paragraphs 3(b) and 4). The testing requirement waiver was discussed as having to be put on hold given social distancing requirements to combat the spread of COVID-19

Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs/Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan brought forward 2020 – 2021 Academic Year Tuition Rates, and 2020 – 2021 Room Board and Fee Rates, both of which were approved.

Chancellor Mark Hagerott provided the Board with an update on the university system’s response to COVID-19. Hagerott noted that most of the staff from system office and from Core Technology Services had been given the option to remote work nearly two weeks ago.

Hagerott also provided an update to the Board on the process involving an update to the strategic plan. He noted that the system office staff had conducted visits to all 11 public colleges and universities and were in the process of writing a survey that would be sent systemwide. The visits and survey would help serve to update the Board’s five-year plan, which was coming due in June.

Student Board member Kaleb Dschaak provided an update on the North Dakota Student Association, including COVID-19 business. He thanked the Board for its assistance with the policy to get the NDSA up and running again after a lapse in administrative filings and added that the association was looking to upcoming elections for its officers. Dschaak said NDSA reached out to campuses on the transition to mostly online and were continuing conversations on the free speech policy.

Faculty Advisor to the Board Dr. Debora Dragseth provided an update from the Council of College Faculty, stating that the organization had met March 3 to talk about compensation issues. Dragseth said CCF was also likely to issue a letter of recommendation on the topic of presidential tenure. She thanked the Board, noting that it was a challenging time for everyone. She noted that she had been nominated by the CCF to continue another year of service in her position.

Staff Advisor to the Board Retha Mattern provided an update on State Staff Senate, which had rescheduled a recent meeting due to the pandemic. Mattern noted that she had been nominated by the senate to continue another year of service in her position.

Chancellor Mark Hagerott spoke on the ND Ag Coalition Nomination, offering a recommendation that Larry Hoffman be nominated. The recommendation was approved. The Board also held the second reading of Policy 340.2 (Nonprofit Affiliates). The next scheduled Board meetings are set for April 29 and May 29 via technology.