A Puzzle We Must Solve

Jul 10th, 2006 @ 8:53 am | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
Much of the story is out now. The attorney general issued an opinion on Friday that clears the State Board of Higher Education of violating the open meetings law. Its eight pages of narrative, however, detail events that the Associated Press news analysis calls "official stories that defy belief" regarding events that led up to the resignation of Chancellor Potts.

Aiming to make sense of the situation, the Sunday editions of newspapers in Grand Forks, Fargo, and Bismarck had more than 16 pages of news, analysis, editorials, and letters to the editor.

The attorney general's version of events is consistent with what I know personally, but there is much I do not know. I also know much more that the attorney general did not include in his opinion. No one will ever know the whole truth. So I am left to interpret the situation as best I can and decide how I will respond to it, both personally and on behalf of Valley City State University. Briefly, here are some of my thoughts.

This is absolutely not about a personality clash. It is also not about whether President Chapman is doing a good job for NDSU or whether Chancellor Potts has done a good job for the System.

Nor is it the story, as the Fargo Forum would have it, of creating a uniform, rather than unified, university system. Uniformity is a red herring. Chancellor Potts has never imposed uniformity or prevented campus initiative.

This is a story of governance and politics - a train wreck in slow motion. We are hoping that all the damage has been done, but there may be more. And the wreckage is in an intersection through which we need to move in order to achieve our goals.

A reporter asked me the other day if these events would change my behavior as a president, implying that all presidents will now act aggressively for their own self-interest regardless of the system. If the best interests of Valley City State University require a change in my behavior, I will change. That is why the worst thing we could do is proceed as if nothing significant has happened. Our signals are mixed, and they need to be cleared.

A Forum story yesterday contained advice for the Board from out-of-state experts. Unanimously, they recommended that the Board take time soon to reflect, learn, and communicate. In other words, they need to clean up the train wreck and revise or reconfirm the goals.

Without understanding and healing, the worst scenario is likely and is already under discussion: the innocent victims will pay a huge price. I refer primarily to the likelihood of legislative financial retaliation, resulting in students whose education is less and tuition is more. Campus initiatives to help move the state forward will stall. There may even be a knee-jerk wholesale change in higher education governance.

W. Edwards Deming has said, "There is no such thing as win-lose, not in the long run. There is only win-win and lose-lose." I agree. It is time for us to focus again on the greater good and create a win-win future.