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Omdahl: Welcome Aboard, Captain Hagerott

By Staff | May 15, 2015

Welcome aboard, Captain Mark Hagerott, as our latest chancellor of North Dakota higher education. Your extensive naval experience will serve you well, but the best thing going for you is the lack of exposure to academia. This is not a position for meditators, speculators or theorists. It is a hand-to-hand ground war.

If you know the history of our chancellors, you will know that coming to North Dakota for that position is an act of courage – Purple Heart courage.

Job One will be to define the meaning of “system” in the so-called university system. One of the reasons we have been going through chancellors like wheat bundles through a threshing rig is because we don’t have consensus on the meaning of “system.”

To college presidents, a system means that the chancellor and the Board of Higher Education will not meddle in college affairs unless they get into trouble with the Legislature.

To faculty, a system means less teaching, higher salaries and more fringe benefits.

To the Legislature, a system means bowing, scraping and pandering to whichever committee is demanding attention.

To students, a system means less course content, fewer exams and more binge drinking.

To parents, a system means that college will guarantee a job immediately – or sooner – upon graduation.

Unless these various constituencies get on the same page, conflict and discontent will continue to reign on the higher education scene.

Now you used the expression “management style” in your interview. Don’t ever use such language again.

You are in a state government that can function only because it has 130 committees and commissions, twice as many elected officials as other states, the largest legislature outside of New Hampshire and more local governments per capita than any other state – one for every 235 residents, to be exact.

Everybody who wants an office in North Dakota can have one. Some people have two.

This structure ought to tell you that we can’t tolerate management so there’s no use aggravating the natives. I know that the expression “chain of command” means something to a military guy but it is a red flag in North Dakota.

Our non-management style was determined by the “doctrine of first settlement” which consists basically of every person for him or herself. Individualism and equality pre-empt management and efficiency. This is demonstrated every time the governor goes to the Capitol coffee shop and is greeted with “Hi! Jack.”

We used to have several city managers in North Dakota but after the good government movement subsided we quietly disposed of them. Minot has the only survivor.

You have cause to pause when Gallup ranked North Dakota as one of the “above average” conservative states but also has a state-owned bank and mill. The Russian wheat-buying teams could never understand it. They bought wheat and left muttering.

We would sell these two political anomalies except they have been very profitable. Their survival for 100 years tells us that socialism works if you give it a chance.

Newspapers reported that the Board is providing you with $15,000 for moving expenses. My advice is that you save half of it just in case. Historically, “just in case” is not as speculative as you may think.

Did they tell you that you were entitled to hazardous duty pay?

It isn’t too late to call in sick or claim a disabling case of autophobia (being alone) or agoraphobia (open spaces).

If bad comes to worse, God can hear you from here no matter what they told you at the Naval Academy.

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