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NDSU vice president's management style under fire again

Kelly Rusch1 / 2
The North Dakota State University campus. Forum file photo2 / 2

FARGO — North Dakota State University's vice president for research will step down earlier than planned and faces new allegations of creating a hostile workplace as well as gender discrimination in an office accused of allowing "man bashing."

Kelly Rusch will leave her post on July 1 and will become a tenured faculty member in civil and environmental engineering. Rusch had given notice in January that she would be "seeking opportunities outside of NDSU" after a comprehensive review reported scathing criticisms of her administration of scientific research.

Meanwhile, the employee who filed the hostile work environment and gender discrimination complaints against Rusch later filed a retaliation complaint after he was placed on immediate administrative leave — a move he said was aimed at removing him from campus so he could not meet with investigators.

Rusch, who was hired in 2013 and has been the subject of repeated criticism for a management style critics have described as "vindictive" and "overbearing," will keep her role in administering a major federal research funding program for the North Dakota University System.

The complaint against Rusch alleging hostile work environment and gender discrimination was filed on May 9 by Lynn Titus Jr., who served as NDSU's research integrity and compliance officer as well as administrator of export control. In his complaint, Titus described a hostile work environment and noted Rusch's review committee report mentioned that "a number of people report a hostile work environment" in the office she heads.

The committee recommended a follow-up report to address the hostile work environment allegations, but Titus said in his complaint that he could find no evidence of any further review.

Titus said his direct supervisor, a woman other than Rusch, laughed when he told her he believed "man bashing" was occurring in the office, and said he was assigned tasks that no female employees were given, such as delivering boxes of paper and moving office furniture.

A 28-year veteran law enforcement officer before joining NDSU in April 2017, including duty as a deputy sheriff and state trooper, Titus said in his complaint that he is "flabbergasted by the unprofessional conduct and behavior being illustrated by some executive personnel within the compliance department" and "astonished" by the failure of NDSU administrators to take corrective action.

NDSU administration declined to comment on the complaints filed by Titus.

"We do not comment on personnel matters or active investigations," Sadie Rudolph, an NDSU spokeswoman, said in a statement. "The Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance is conducting an investigation."

New hires on hold

Almost three weeks after filing his complaints, Titus was placed on immediate administrative leave May 24 when he arrived for work in the morning. His work calendar, which is shared with his supervisor, showed that he was to meet that afternoon with an investigator looking into his complaints.

Titus was told to turn in his office key and NDSU employee badge, actions along with his administrative leave he believes were intended to prevent him from being interviewed by the investigator.

"Thus far I have followed the Grievance procedures and have been met with retaliation and aggression," Titus wrote in his retaliation complaint, ending with a plea for the administration to look into the problems he cited in his complaints.

After Rusch gave notice early this year that she planned to leave NDSU, a search committee began working to find her replacement, but that plan recently was put on hold.

Provost Beth Ingram, in an email to the "campus community" sent on May 18, announced that the search for a new vice president for research and a new dean of science and mathematics had been suspended because of pending budget cuts the university has been asked to prepare to address.

"Although we are many steps away from a final determination of our next biennial budget, our current actions must be consistent with that budget uncertainty," she said in the email. Interim replacements for the two administrative posts will be filled internally.

On May 16, two days before Ingram emailed the campus announcement, The Forum had submitted a public records request for Titus' hostile work environment and gender discrimination complaints.

Complainant resigns

As of July 1, Rusch's salary will decrease from $272,020 to $269,786, when she will join the engineering faculty.

Although many criticized Rusch's administration of research grants in her comprehensive review, she will continue as the statewide executive director of a major federal research funding program for universities, for which she will be paid $67,447 as part of her salary total.

Titus decided to resign as of May 31, the date his administrative leave ended. He explained his resignation in a brief interview: "Nothing is going to change," he said, noting Rusch will continue in an important science administration role. "All it did was shift her around. That's why I decided to resign. They fixed nothing."

Last year, Rusch was the subject of a grievance filed by NDSU's top veterinarian, who argued that he was fired in retaliation after filing a complaint that her management style was "dictatorial." The retaliation grievance was dismissed, and the veterinarian dropped his appeal.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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