Amid accusations, NDUS presidents find no issue with Hagerott
GRAND FORKS — A North Dakota university president named in labor allegations made against the head of the state's higher education system has confirmed an accusation that involves her—but said she wasn't offended by the event in question.
"From my perspective, I don't recall being interrupted or disrespected," said Tisa Mason, outgoing president of Valley City State University, of an interaction she had in a March 2016 conference call with system Chancellor Mark Hagerott. In mid-November, Hagerott's former chief of staff Lisa Feldner accused the chancellor of a wide range of discriminatory practices that Feldner—who also served as a system vice chancellor until Hagerott fired her "without cause" in September—said created a hostile work environment for employees in the system office.
Feldner has officially filed her claims in a 17-page narrative submitted to the state Department of Labor and Human Rights. Both the chancellor and SBHE Chair Don Morton have said they "strongly disagree" with Feldner's allegations and have welcomed a formal investigation of their merit. A major theme of her claim is that Hagerott routinely showed sexist behaviors in the office, granting favor to men over women.
That pattern was identified earlier in a 2016 office climate study put together at the behest of leaders of the State Board of Higher Education, the system's governing body whose members are Hagerott's direct superiors. The theme is also where Mason enters the narrative.
During a conference call with the chancellor's cabinet, Feldner wrote, each campus president was asked to report their individual progress in a system-wide governance study.
Feldner claimed Hagerott was overly familiar with Mason, whom he allegedly referred to by first name while addressing the male presidents by their title and last name. What's more, Feldner wrote, "as (Mason) finished her report, (Hagerott) said) "I want to thank Tisa's husband for allowing her to spend so much time on the Governance study."
The chancellor thanked the male presidents "profusely," Feldner said.
Mason said she "didn't really connect" with the language in Feldner's narrative about the chancellor. But, she said, "I do recall he acknowledged my husband."
"I didn't think anything about it," Mason said. "(My husband) supports me and I really couldn't serve effectively as a president without his support."
"I think (Hagerott) was just trying to express gratitude for my time," she added. When asked if she recalled the chancellor thanking the wives of the male presidents, Mason said she wasn't sure that would have made sense that day given the structure of the meeting's presentations.
Mason, who is soon leaving North Dakota and will begin serving in January as president of a Kansas university, believed Hagerott has been supportive and professional in his interactions with her. She said he "has been, quite frankly, a good boss."
Other presidents of North Dakota University System schools declined to comment on the allegations brought against the chancellor but felt they had a good relationship with him.
UND President Mark Kennedy said he gets along very well with Hagerott and appreciates the chancellor's interest in research, particularly in data science and cybersecurity. Dickinson State University President Tom Mitzel, who started in his role shortly after Hagerott was appointed by the SBHE in 2015, said the chancellor has been "very helpful" and supportive to him thus far.
Doug Darling, president of Lake Region State College, said he personally has "not seen any of the behaviors as listed in the allegations" leveled at Hagerott. And Mayville State University President Gary Hagen said he's also had a good connection to the chancellor, observing that "everyone has different personality types."
"Some people talk more than others, for example, and you need to be more patient when you listen to them," Hagen said, not specifying if he was referring to Hagerott. "Other people are in different venues and different kinds of meetings with him, I suppose, but I've never seen anything that's alarmed me."