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NDSU's VP for research resigns after critical review, complaints

Kelly Rusch, vice president for research at North Dakota State University.

FARGO — North Dakota State University's vice president for research, the subject of complaints about a "vindictive" and "overbearing" management style, will be leaving the university.

Kelly Rusch submitted notice "indicating that she would be seeking opportunities outside of NDSU" and wants to step down as vice president for research and creative activity, wrote Provost Beth Ingram in an email sent to deans on Wednesday, Jan. 17.

Rusch has held the position since 2013.

Word of Rusch's departure came on the same day she received a critical appraisal of her performance from a review committee that drew upon comments from faculty and staff.

Although Rusch has the option of filling a position as a tenured professor of civil and environmental engineering, she plans to go elsewhere, Ingram wrote in the email. "With regret, I have accepted her request."

Ingram went on to list what she saw as Rusch's accomplishments, including leading the implementation of an electronic research administration system, providing seed grants for faculty research and recruiting.

Rusch's resignation followed a routine comprehensive review of her performance that involved input from faculty and staff. Before that review, Rusch had over a period of several years been the subject of several written complaints, most of them anonymous, and a grievance filed by NDSU's top veterinarian, whose dismissal she recommended.

Ingram forwarded the results of the review committee's findings to Rusch Wednesday, with a cover letter in which she praised Rusch's "strengths as being a hard worker and organized," and lauded her efforts to ensure researchers remained in compliance with their grant requirements, among other accomplishments.

But Ingram also noted the review committee's appraisal of Rusch's shortcomings. "You will need to improve your communication and interpersonal skills to be successful; in particular, you will need to be more transparent about the rationale for decisions and to be more inclusive in your decision-making," Ingram wrote to Rusch.

In the committee report, Rusch's reviewers noted communication skills were the most frequently suggested area of improvement for Rusch. The committee sought comments from faculty and staff in two meetings, in anonymous surveys, and through written comments.

Rusch's critics faulted her for being too involved in details and failing to articulate a vision for NDSU's research initiatives, and for making remarks some regarded as "inappropriate or derogatory."

Comments received by the review committee echoed the written complaints filed earlier against Rusch, which were reported by The Forum in September.

In her resignation memo to Ingram, Rusch made no mention about the complaints regarding her management style, or about the review of her performance, but touted her accomplishments during her 4½ year tenure.

"I remain dedicated to the future of NDSU's research and creative enterprise," Rusch wrote. "However, I have accomplished the core objectives that I set out to accomplish and am interested in pursuing new opportunities and goals."

Rusch was not available for comment late in the day Wednesday, when word of her departure was circulating on campus.

Rusch will remain in her position until a replacement can be appointed, Ingram wrote in her email to deans.

"I intend to begin immediately gathering input from the campus community about the search and expectations for the next Vice President and to form a search committee representative of the campus and its constituents," Ingram wrote.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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