Last Friday, North Dakota’s University Chancellor Mark Hagerott called into KFGO’s News and Views with Joel Heitkamp. It was the Chancellor’s first public comments following the firing of Lisa Feldner and a compromising 2016 compliance report. The unscheduled call by a heated Hagerott exposed a troubling claim; Republican legislators and partisan power brokers tried to intimidate him following a political endorsement by former Governor and interim UND President Ed Schafer. At least, according to Schafer and Hagerott. We’ve yet to see concrete evidence. However, if this allegation of intimidation shocks you, then you haven’t been paying close enough attention to North Dakota politics.
Too often, the North Dakota Capitol is run by fear and intimidation. It’s a symptom of a longstanding super-majority status. If you’ve been a lobbyist, worked in a state agency closely involved with the Legislature, or a legislator within the last ten years, you’ve witnessed it first hand. If you’ve been in one of those categories, but don’t think that’s even a remotely accurate description, congratulations, you’re likely a part of the “Good Old Boys Network” candidate Doug Burgum campaigned against in the primary of 2016.
At the end of December and beginning of January, I detailed what I called the “Culture of Intimidation” running Bismarck. It’s a three-part series on ND xPlains. I’ve provided the three links in this post. Hagerott’s accusation of threats toward the Chancellor himself, Universities, and students is yet another example of that culture at work. It’s ugly and it’s gone on too long without being called out. I was the first to point it here, but Hagerott is the first to publicly claim he’s a potential victim of the culture.
Let me be clear, I’m not trying to defend Hagerott from claims made in the 2016 compliance report. He will need to answer to the Board of Higher Education for that. They meet in Devils Lake tomorrow. Nor am I picking a side in the firing of Lisa Feldner. She has the ability to seek legal counsel for that. I’m simply lending a third party lens into the politically charged atmosphere that would allow Legislators to think they could try and muscle their way through getting “their guy” into the Governor’s office even going as far as allegedly threatening university students.
Chancellor Hagerott made the accusation in a heated call into a talk show. It is out there. No retractions allowed. An investigation headed by the Attorney General has been denied. The call for an investigation was unique and seemed as though Hagerott wanted someone else to reveal the alleged dirty deeds of power-hungry politicians. The whole thing was even more odd given the Attorney General – Wayne Stenehjem – was on the losing side of the Ed Shafer endorsement that supposedly started this spiral in June of 2016.
Understandably, media of all platforms are talking about it now. It is undoubtedly newsworthy for many different reasons. I’d suggest those that instinctively dismiss these accusations are perhaps too close to the matter. Here is the thing, no investigation is needed. Chancellor Mark Hagerott can and should simply expose who in the Republican Party, be it a legislator or simply a party insider, threatened his position and more disgustingly students in the North Dakota University System for partisan purposes. As they say, transparency is the best disinfectant.