Thursday, May 31, 2007


In a May 27, 2007 opinion piece, Eddie Dunn, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, corrected what he described as “serious factual errors” in the May 23, 2007 Fargo Forum editorial about the conflict involving North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman and himself. Last year Mr. Chapman was involved in conflict and controversy with Chancellor Robert Potts, who eventually resigned.

Mr. Dunn also criticized The Forum’s characterization of this conflict as “no big deal” and a “dust up.”

I found the Forum editorial of May 23 defensive. It explained, minimized, and rationalized Mr. Chapman’s behavior in an apparent effort to support the home town university president at the cost of the documented facts.

I read the original Forum article that described the conflict between Mr. Dunn and Mr. Chapman, and I read the correspondence between them. I was impressed with how Mr. Dunn documented the situation. My reaction was based on 35 years experience investigating and documenting crimes, conflict, and disciplinary situations as a Secret Service agent, business executive, and organizational consultant/executive coach. I would not dismiss the behavior in question as “no big deal.”

The passive-aggressive political behavior of Mr. Chapman and others documented in the Robert Potts affair and now with Mr. Dunn is highly disruptive to trust, relationships, productivity, and ultimately to the organization’s bottom line whether financial or the education of university students. Such behavior is not unique to Mr. Chapman or the university system—it is commonplace in many organizations.

The antidote to passive-aggressive behavior is simple to state and difficult to do: leaders must model the behavior they want to see in followers and create the conditions where people can learn and practice being straightforward as Mr. Dunn asked Mr. Chapman to do. Leaders must also hold people accountable as Mr. Dunn did.

Psychologist Carol Pearson wrote that people thrive in organizations where integrity and appropriate assertiveness are expected and rewarded. And people need to be cared about enough that they will not be allowed to get away with being dishonest, manipulative, irresponsible, or passive-aggressive.

Talented employees stay in such organizations, relationships and creativity thrive, and time and energy are spent furthering the vision of the institution instead of expending tremendous amounts of time and energy maneuvering and protecting oneself from political games.

In many editorials during the Robert Potts saga, The Forum defended Mr. Chapman without criticism and blamed Mr. Potts for the problems. If one reads the correspondence between Dunn and Chapman, The Forum’s unqualified support of Mr. Chapman in the recent situation is not credible and raises questions about The Forum’s support of Mr. Chapman in the Robert Potts situation.

People have different opinions—that is what an opinion page is for. But when a newspaper’s opinion slides from opinion to blind support of the home town favorite, it loses credibility as an opinion people will respect.

When The Fargo Forum becomes an enabler to destructive behavior, it does not serve the community well. Nor does it help Mr. Chapman develop as a leader. I hope The Forum’s editorial board will review and reflect on their editorials about Mr. Chapman’s behavior in the Robert Potts and Eddie Dunn situations and ask themselves if their opinions are supported by the facts of each situation.

By all accounts Joseph Chapman is a fine leader. Like all leaders he has his blind spots. I hope he will examine his behavior and find new ways to interact with his boss and peers—ways that grow trust, relationships, and productivity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Poor Joe Chapman, president of North Dakota State University.

He just can’t get along with anyone—especially his bosses—and it’s not his fault.

In a July 27, 2006 commentary entitled, HIGHER-ED FOLLIES: Passive-aggressive tactics win out in N.D. higher ed published in the Grand Forks Herald, I documented the passive/aggressive (the expression of anger and aggression in passive ways to frustrate the wishes of others—often bosses) of Chapman and others as they colluded to undermine the leadership of Chancellor Robert Potts.

Chapman and his allies succeeded, and Potts resigned (He is now the chancellor of the Jonesboro campus of Arkansas State University, which has an enrollment of approximately 11,000 students).

In this years legislative session Mr. Chapman differed with Potts replacement, Eddie Dunn, over legislative issues. The issues are less important than how Chapman handled them.

Dunn wrote in a letter to Chapman dated March 20, 2007:

1. Chapman breached Dunn’s faith and trust by repeating to the State Board of Higher Education president comments made by Dunn and others in a Chancellor’s Cabinet meeting where there is an expectation of confidentiality,

2. Chapman misrepresented statements made by Dunn and Pat Seaworth (General Counsel to the State Board of Higher Education) to the board president causing considerable stress for those involved,

3. Chapman conveyed to the board president that one of the college presidents said the “board is passive” and that Mr. Dunn agreed with that statement. Mr. Dunn denied agreement with that statement and, as in each of the above situations, asked Mr. Chapman to speak to him directly if he had issues.

4. Mr. Chapman says he reports to the board and not to the chancellor—the root of his problem with Robert Potts and now Eddie Dunn. Mr. Dunn pointed out to Mr. Chapman that he reports to the Chancellor and that Mr. Chapman’s conduct has harmed the trust, respect, and credibility of the State Board of Higher Education.

Mr. Chapman deflected Mr. Dunn’s concerns.

Chapman feared he might be fired over the disagreement, hired an attorney, and asked Dunn to excuse himself from writing a performance evaluation because Dunn demonstrated a personal bias against him. Poor Joe Chapman.

Managers administer tens of millions of performance appraisals in the United States annually. A significant percentage involves people who don’t like each other and most contain some elements of criticism.

Mr. Chapman, here’s the point: performance appraisals exist so bosses can give subordinates feedback—critical and positive. The ordinary people who work for NDSU don’t get to have their boss step aside because the boss might criticize them—neither do you. To suggest such a thing is ludicrous.

Mr. Dunn reviewed Mr. Chapman’s performance via telephone on May 17, 2007. Mr. Chapman didn’t get fired. His spokesperson says Chapman believes the “matter is closed.”

I’ve read the letters and other documents in this matter. I congratulate Chancellor Dunn and Mr. Seaworth for their direct handling of this issue. It is clear that they kept the lines of communication open with the appropriate parties and learned something from the Robert Potts fiasco.

Joe Chapman has not learned. His immature behavior in the Robert Potts situation was repeated in this situation and will likely be repeated again in the future to the detriment of higher education in North Dakota. Any future attempts to undermine others by Mr. Chapman should be dealt with directly with progressive discipline.

President Chapman cannot be trusted and should resign. Perhaps Robert Potts could be persuaded to return and lead NDSU.