• September 2, 2015

North Dakota State U. President Resigns Amid Uproar Over New House

North Dakota State U. President Resigns Amid Uproar Over New House 1

North Dakota State U.

Joseph A. Chapman

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North Dakota State U.

Joseph A. Chapman

North Dakota State University's longtime president, Joseph A. Chapman, resigned on Wednesday amid mounting criticism over his expensive new presidential residence. State officials have called for an audit of the home-construction project, whose cost overruns have swelled the price tag to more than $2-million, compared with a target of $900,000

State lawmakers and members of North Dakota's Board of Higher Education have been scathing in their criticism of the home, calling it an "out-of-control project," according to news reports. And the controversy has broadened to other aspects of Mr. Chapman's compensation.

This week the university's foundation eliminated its annual deferred-compensation payments to the president, which reached $150,000 last year. His total compensation was $411,494. And The Forum, a Fargo newspaper, reported on Tuesday that the foundation had spent $22,000 on a charter flight and hotel bills for Mr. Chapman and his family to attend President Obama's inauguration.

Mr. Chapman, who has led the university since 1999, acknowledged the criticism in his resignation letter.

"Controversies in recent days have created distractions that have made it impossible for me to provide the leadership this institution deserves," he said. "Students have always been paramount, and I fear these distractions have impaired my ability to serve their interests."

Many universities have faced backlashes over construction projects on presidential residences. Ironically, North Dakota State's problems began with a $1-million gift.

In 2008 the William C. and Jane B. Marcil Charitable Foundation donated $1-million each to the university and the University of North Dakota for construction of new presidential homes on both campuses. North Dakota State officials had not seriously considered upgrading Mr. Chapman's digs until the gift arrived.

The new residence was designed to be better for events, including fund-raising activities. It is more user-friendly for caterers than was the previous house, and it is handicapped accessible. But costs for the house, which opened this fall, blew well past estimates. University officials had expected more private gifts to help cover the expense, but they never arrived because of the recession, they said.

According to a cost summary published by The Forum, construction hit almost $1.4-million, while site preparation, furniture, landscaping, parking, lighting, and other details brought the project up to $2-million.

A spokeswoman for the university, Najla Ghazi Amundson, says Mr. Chapman intentionally kept his distance from the project because he considered the house to be the university's asset rather than his personal home. "He wanted to stay as far away from the house as possible."

But Ms. Amundson says Mr. Chapman now regrets that he was not more hands-on. With three major players involved—the university, the foundation, and the architect—"nobody was really minding the store," she says

Mr. Chapman, whose resignation is effective in January, echoed calls for an independent audit of the construction project "to protect the integrity of the institution."

The fracas over the home was not Mr. Chapman's first brush with controversy. In 2006, Robert L. Potts, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, resigned after a power struggle with Mr. Chapman. The feud apparently rankled some state leaders.

However, Mr. Chapman has overseen a recent boom at the university. Enrollment increased by 7.3 percent this year and 22 percent the previous year. The state, enjoying flush times largely because of energy money, increased its biannual contribution to the university by about 21 percent.


1. jeff1 - October 15, 2009 at 07:15 am

Well president Chapman this is all your responsibility as it occurred on your watch. You did the honorable thing in resigning. Other presidents and boards should really pay attention to this case. Presidents are not entitled to anything and indeed the house, car, and other "perks" are given so that you can focus on your leadership role and the best interests of your institutions . . . not your own best interests or celebrating "your" accomplishments and so on.

2. jwperry - October 15, 2009 at 07:53 am

I wonder why we feel it necessary to have castles for our presidents and chancellors. I wonder why people who donate to the university feel the need to be treated as royalty, if the goal of their gifting is to improve the academic climate. It's certainly nice to have a place for receptions and the like, but on-campus centers that have multiple functions would seem to make a whale of a lot more sense. Indeed, the campus residence is becomeing a thing of the past anyway. It would be nice to think students could come to it to seek wisdom from the experienced and learned leader, but then there is thsi little thing called reality. As a campus leader, I prefer one-on-one get togethers with true campus friends.

3. dank48 - October 15, 2009 at 08:20 am

Matt. 7:1.

4. dgswartz - October 15, 2009 at 09:09 am

Joe Chapman help to lead much progress at NDSU over the last ten years. The President's House was largely funded by external contributions and he kept arm's length from the upgrades considering it a university asset to be used by forthcoming Presidents to entertain and help in fund raising and promtion of the university, some of the major activities of any President. Now that he has resigned many will take a close look at his legacy and observe the significant progress that has been made. It is a lose for NDSU and the state of ND. A sorry day!

5. mbelvadi - October 15, 2009 at 09:47 am

A tenure of 10 years is enough to earn the label "longtime president"? That's sad - it says something about the problem of turnover in that position. On the other hand, maybe presidents wouldn't spend so much money on fancy houses if they're not likely to still be there to live in it themselves by the time the construction is finished.

6. 11147726 - October 15, 2009 at 10:40 am

So, now that Old Joe is gone, what's going to happen to the presidential palace - I mean "residence"?

7. ungarav - October 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

Mr. Chapman increased student enrollment at NDSU by lowering academic
standards to levels of absurdities (e.g., admitting to university
high mathematics classes students who are not familiar with the role
of the symbol "equals" in mathematics). Simultaneously, Mr. Chapman
informed the public that he is interested in quality (of academic standards)
rather than quantity (of student enrollment). To achieve this goal against
possible protest by faculty, Mr. Chapman ran NDSU as an authoritarian,
giving high salary raises to his supporters. Mr. Chapman's policy to increase
student enrollment increased NDSU's income much more than the cost of his
fancy house. If money talks, Mr. Chapman should remain NDSU's president.

8. mark900 - October 15, 2009 at 11:36 am

I wouldn't have thought it possible to build a $2 million house in North Dakota. Are all the houses there worth that much together?

9. 11160044 - October 15, 2009 at 12:49 pm

No 7 is obviously a disgruntled faculty member at NDSU and no. 8 knows nothing about the midwest and particularly the upper midwest. Notice during this recession that the state of North Dakota is operating in the black. As one who studies higher education, and graduated from NDSU I am saddened to see Mr. Chapman step down. He has been an outstanding president of the University. However, he will not be the first president to step down because of a controversy over the president's house or office. The U of M - Minnesota's president stepped down a few years ago over the renovation of the president's house and his office. Presidents need to pay close attention to these projects to make sure over zeolous administrators below them don't go overboard in an effort to curry favor with the president. When this all blows over Joe Chapman's legacy as an outstanding president will be in tacked.

10. jsteingass - October 15, 2009 at 12:51 pm

It sounds like the previous comments were made by a bunch of disgruntled faculty members who would find fault with anything that administrators do. I'm no longer in higher education (I'm in the "real" world and own my own company), but I sometimes long for the cushy life of a faculty member.

11. jomn09 - October 15, 2009 at 01:37 pm

Good one, mark9000 - very witty.

Anyway, Dr. Chapman has spurred growth at NDSU - no question about it. But my questions lie as much with the leadership at the foundation as they do with Dr. Chapman. Where was the oversight of the expenditures for the house, his office, his unlimited discretionary fund... Really, who was "minding the shop" as Ms. Amundson comments.

Why should presidents be expecting half million dollar salaries per year, when the faculty at NDSU are paid so poorly? Why should a president have unlimited access to resources, without any oversight or apparent accountability? While I believe Dr. Chapman has done good things for NDSU, it seems that the current mix over there was, indeed, not working for the betterment of the educational experience of the students.

12. drusso - October 15, 2009 at 01:57 pm

#9 I'm confused. Is being "in tacked" like being "at tacked"?

13. willynilly - October 15, 2009 at 03:10 pm

Mr. Chapman is now fully prepared to become the President of either GM or Chrysler Corp. He has clearly demonstrated that he fully meets the compelling requirements of those high positions. Ignore the worst US economy in history, the largest debt in US history and a world-wide monetary crisis and merrily go along spending, spending, spending on non-essential luxuries. Way to show 'em you know what your doing, Mr Chapman.

14. 22221757 - October 15, 2009 at 03:16 pm


15. davi2665 - October 15, 2009 at 03:27 pm

It appears that Dr. Chapman has done nothing wrong other than to have a contract that provides him modest compensation for a very trying and difficult job of leading a major university during a time of financial troubles. The presidential residence is a capital budget item under the direction of the university and the foundation, not the president's operational budget. Dr. Chapman acted in a totally appropriate fashion by keeping hands off of such a project. Had he tried to interject himself in it, he would have been excoriated for a conflict of interest and interference with a university capital project. The statement above that the president had unlimited access to resources without oversight or apparent accountability is a total misrepresentation. A presidential residence is a necessary part of the conduct of university business, particularly fund raising that does, indeed, contribute to the betterment of the educational experience (and scholarships, buildings, etc) of the students. If the project was financially overbudget or out of control, the board and the foundation have responsibility and needed to deal with it. The snide and astonishingly ignorant comment about a $2 million home in North Dakato highlights the typical elitism and arrogance of the "special" faculty who see everyone but their own elite crowd as ignorant midwest hayseeds. Believe it or not, we actually have neighborhoods in the midwest in which a $2 million home would be at the lower end of value, and some PROFESSORS even live in those homes. Shocker.

The real issue in the discussion and in the "uproar" over Dr. Chapman's situation seems to be his total compensation package. If he had a contract, it is unconscionable for the foundation to withdraw $150,000 of it. If he did not have a contract, then shame on him for poor negotiation. I can just imagine what our privileged unionized faculty would do if the university just arbitrarily cut off more than one third of the faculty's compensation because of an "uproar." Once again, the great egalitarian urge of faculty leads to assaulting a president for earning a modest compensation for his work, even in the face of job security that does not even approach the pampered faculty. It is ridiculous that some comments above seem to view the benchmark for presidential salary to be that earned by professors. That would be akin to using the bat boy's salary as a bench mark for a professional baseball team's manager. So Dr. Chapman loses his job because of a salary issue. I am surprised that he was not remanded by the faculty to a "re-education camp" for "cultural readjustment" to help him see the errors of his non-Marxist ways in accepting a salary larger than that of professors. This is yet another example of the growing absurdity of the academic sandbox, and yet another reason for people who actually would like to earn a reasonable living to stay away from this kind of nonsense.

16. oldcommprof - October 15, 2009 at 05:24 pm

Seems #7 has it right about lower admission standards -- and not just in math. What's with "in tacked?" "Intact," for crying out loud! I now know far more than I ever wanted to about NDSU and its grads.

17. geoff_wilson - October 15, 2009 at 06:35 pm

Presidential salary, NDSU:
$414,494 x 10 years = $4,149,940

Faculty salary, full professor, NDSU
$90,300 x 30 years = $2,709,000

Now, even ignoring the fact that virtually nobody spends 30 years as a full professor, and the various cost of living adjustments that are made from year to year, the disparity is striking. So, #15, I'll gladly accept this "modest compensation" (150% of the salary in 1/3 the time). And if you want to make a baseball analogy, try this one: the faculty on your "baseball team" are the players, not the "batboys". What do you think the ratio of player/manager salary is in MLB?

18. jruiz - October 15, 2009 at 07:45 pm

"Notice during this recession that the state of North Dakota is operating in the black."

Chalk that up to the price of oil, nothing that ND ever did. Chapman believed he ran a separate fiefdom, got the Board to favor him over his boss, loved competition until UND sought to establish a campus in Fargo, and set up a D I athletic program which syphons money from academics. Nevermind his wife's $50K job a s a hostess.

19. bobalouie - October 15, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Mr. Chapman's relationship to the building project was a little more than arms length. His wife was on a board making decisions concerning decorating and furnishing the house. That's where most of the cost overruns came in. That information was supplied by a local radio station when the story broke a couple of months ago.
It's great that Mr. Chapman did so many wonderful things for NDSU, but I for one, think his salary is a bit high. What exactly has he done that any other college president in the state of North Dakota hasn't done to deserve a higher salary than any of them? He has friends in higher places that agreed to pay him that salary. Will NDSU suffer by his absence? Probably not.

20. etuka24 - October 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Why is North Dakota State University President resigning without notice if his hands are clean. Quick resignations like this have often been linked to having something unusual. What happened to the elaborate building project? Was corruption involved. What amount is at stake? If corruption was, who are those involved in it? These and more the people would like to know.

Dr.Etuka C. Obinwa
York, PA

21. mssmiley - October 16, 2009 at 03:49 pm

Good pont #20. Does Mr. Chapman's redsignation absolve him of any liablity if any is brought up. I fail to accept his story that he was totally clueles about how the building project was overseen. I would want to some oversight if I were entrusted with such responsibility. If it is true that his wife was on a board making decisions relating to decorating and furnishing, then he need to check their credit card statment if it was not the university's money; talk about lack of communication or better yet, maritial discord.
As for the donors "needing" the house for fundraising, it speaks volumes to how powerful these people are. I have heard of some staff being asked to be "nice and extra careful" with certain students because they were related to certain kind members of a university.


22. greeneyeshade - October 16, 2009 at 04:08 pm

Higher Ed old timers: How many times have we seen this happen over the years? Presidents--new and old--fgeathering the university-supplied nest, and/or going wild with furnishings and add-ons?

And the same old excuse--"it's absolutely essential if they are going to fund raise and entertain the movers and shakers that the university relies on." Not the ones who complain about the cost of higher education, I guess.

Surely by now someone has prepared a manual on how to be a college president, with this item on the top 10 list of blunders to avoid?

23. finnbarr - October 16, 2009 at 05:28 pm

At U of Tennessee we call this John Shumaker Syndrome.

24. akprof - October 17, 2009 at 12:22 am

I can't believe that so many people have taken time to comment on this story - of course, I read the comments and added this one!! Guess we all have a little time on our hands!

25. ungarav - October 17, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Dr.~Chapman, the President of North Dakota State University (NDSU),
approved his own trip to President Obama's inauguration at the cost of
$22,000 paid by NDSU. Additionally, the Chancellor of North Dakota
University System (NDUS), William G. Goetz, has recently discovered
that Pres. Chapman has unjustifiably spent more than $2,000,000 of
NDSU's financial resources on building his new, fancy home.
In contrast, just a few days before Chancellor Goetz discovered
Pres. Chapman's unjustified distribution of NDSU's financial resources
to satisfy his own pleasure, Pres. Chapman refused to approve a
travel authorization to an NDSU's professor who was invited to act as
a main speaker in an international conference in Budapest, dedicated to
Einstein's theory of relativity.
Thus, on the one hand, NDSU's Pres. Chapman believes that in order to improve
NDSU's image he should have a fancy home of $2,000,000 and an enjoyable trip
for $22,000; and, on the other hand, Pres. Chapman believes that granting a
travel authorization (at no cost to NDSU) to allow an NDSU's professor to
accept an invitation to participate in an international conference as a
main speaker, is not needed for improving NDSU's image in the academic world.
NDSU owes many thanks to Chancellor Goetz for discovering the real way
Pres. Chapman provides leadership to NDSU.

26. katherine_circle - October 18, 2009 at 02:13 pm

I must disagree with number 7. I teach pre-college algebra at NDSU and I have never encountered a student who did not know what and equals sign means.

27. marvinlee - October 24, 2009 at 03:18 am

I am a graduate of a different ND college. I learned much and subsequently did well. I would be more likely to bequest my good fortune to a school with a modest presidential home than to one with a lavish home. Most university presidents are highly intelligent, acutely aware, individuals who know what is happening in their arena. That vastly expensive home did not happen without the president's awareness and, likely, approval.

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