THE FARGO FORUM AS ENABLER
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.