Ohio University has announced the names of the four finalist candidates for the position of its next president, and among them, at least two have significant controversies tied to their legacy at institutions where they work now or served in the past.
The finalists are scheduled to visit the university’s Athens campus and appear at open forums starting this Tuesday and running until Tuesday, Jan. 17. Students, faculty, staff and community members are welcome to attend these forums. (The schedule for the public forums can be found here).
Regarding the candidates’ background, all of them are white and male, outside of OU Provost and Executive Vice President Pam Benoit, who is a woman. The candidates are:
• Duane Nellis, 62, immediate past president of Texas Tech University from 2013 to January 2017. President of the University of Idaho, in Moscow, from 2009-2013.
• Dean L. Bresciani, 56, president of North Dakota State University from 2010 to the present. Vice president for student affairs at Texas A&M University from 2004-2008.
• Robert G. Frank, 64, immediate past president of the University of New Mexico since 2012. Provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Kent State University from 2007 to 2012.
• Pam Benoit (age not readily available online), executive vice president and provost at OU from 2009 to the present. Vice provost of advanced studies and dean of the graduate school at the University of Missouri from 2005 to 2009.
These candidates have been selected by the 21-person presidential search committee put in place by the OU Board of Trustees. The committee includes five trustees, three faculty members, five OU college deans, three students, two OU administrators/staff, and three people not directly employed or studying at the university.
OU Trustee Chair David Wolfort said in a release provided by OU last Thursday that everybody is encouraged to attend the open forums for each candidate.
“Finding our next president is an important decision for our community,” Wolfort said in the release. “The open forums are a vital part of the search process, as they allow both the candidates and the university community to interact with one another and determine whether a specific appointment would be a good fit.”
The announcement of these candidates comes after more than a month of OU’s legal office not fulfilling at least one public records request for documents of who was being considered for the position of president. The university still has not yet provided those documents.
The NEWS will break down the background of each of the candidates below.
Robert Frank, immediate past president of the University of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico is a public research university with one main campus located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and five branch campuses throughout the state. The university is considered New Mexico’s second-largest institution of higher education based on enrollment. As of fall 2016, the university’s headcount enrollment was 27,060 students, down about 7 percent from five years before.
UNM President Frank reached an agreement with the university’s Board of Regents in late December for Frank to leave the university earlier than expected (he had previously said he would leave when his contract was up in May 2017).
The Albuquerque Journal reported that the UNM Board of Regents began considering whether or not to suspend or fire Frank in apparent response to the results of an investigative report into Frank’s conduct in office. The Board of Regents reportedly ordered that investigative report this past November, according to the Journal, after at least one whistleblower complaint about Frank’s alleged mistreatment of staff.
In the report, an outside investigator said she did not see Frank’s behavior rising to the level of “hostile work environment” as defined under law, but she did see evidence of “shades of a hostile working environment.”
“Frank’s treatment of faculty and staff is not appropriate and may rise to the level of bullying,” the Albuquerque Journal reported the investigator saying in the final report of investigation.
Some staff members said Frank had a temper, the Journal reported, or would yell at people or be condescending, but some also said he cared about his staff, was “generally affable” and the bulk of their interactions “are pleasant.”
Frank’s lawyer, Phil Thompson, filed a tort claim against UNM, saying the report of the investigation was “leaked,” and noted that his client was cleared of wrongdoing, according to news station KOB4. Frank did not end up suing UNM, though in a follow-up story with the Albuquerque Journal, said he felt that his "employee rights" had been violated by the Board of Regents.
The report also said the Regents hired a job coach two years after Frank became president to try to improve his “communication skills.”
Frank reportedly told the investigator he felt he benefited from the coach. Some of those interviewed said he did, but others said they saw no change in his behavior.
In his interview with the investigator, Frank praised his staff and said he believes he works well with people, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
He said previous reports of staff being unhappy were tied to a former chief of staff who “struggled to get along with the staff and was not a good fit for the position,” the Journal reported.
During Frank’s tenure, he said in his curriculum vitae, he helped spur economic development “by partnering with the City of Albuquerque and the County of Bernalillo and business communities to create Innovate ABQ, a research district.” He also oversaw development of “Innovate Academy,” with 400 students, 39 programs and 171 faculty. He similarly noted that he had established a program to improve student retention and graduation with retention improving by 5 percent and graduation by 2 percent during his tenure.
Frank got his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of New Mexico in 1979, according to his resume. Before his time at Kent State University, Frank was dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida from 1995-2007. OU President McDavis was Dean of the College of Education at that university from 1994-1999.
Dean L. Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University
North Dakota State University is a public research university located in Fargo, North Dakota, and is one of the largest universities by enrollment in that state. It has one main campus as well as several agricultural research extension centers. The university had 14,432 students enrolled as of fall semester 2016, up about 30 students from five years prior.
NDSU President Bresciani has weathered multiple controversies during his tenure at NDSU, with The Bismarck Tribune calling in an August 2016 editorial for Bresciani’s resignation. Specifically, the newspaper cited Bresciani’s strained relationships with state legislators, as well as some instances of expensive flights he had taken to get around the state or to raise funds.
The newspaper also linked Bresciani with a now-rescinded policy to limit journalists’ access to the university’s athletics department and student-athletes, although Bresciani has condemned that policy publicly.
“What’s disturbing about the media restrictions controversy was Bresciani’s apparent willingness to mislead the public and to place the blame on Athletic Director Matt Larsen,” the Bismarck tribune reported. “Bresciani initially said he was unaware of Larsen’s plan for media restrictions, but after a public-records request revealed texts between Bresciani and Larsen discussing the restrictions, he said he thought the restrictions were common at universities.”
The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education initially declined to renew Bresciani’s contract earlier in 2016 citing improvements he needed to make, but that board ultimately decided to renew his contract in November after some apparent changes in his work.
Bresciani also ran into some controversy in 2013 when he was investigated by North Dakota Attorney General for a possible felony charge of tampering with records, after more than 45,000 emails were allegedly deleted from his university email account. Later that year, The Dickinson Press reported, the state AG released an opinion finding that the university had violated open-records law, but not whether the deletion was intentional. No charges were filed.
Bresciani in his CV states that during his time at NDSU, he had helped the university strategically craft “a trajectory of growing record enrollments (during a period of regional enrollment declines) while becoming the state’s leader both in matriculation of in- and out-of-state fulltime students and the academic profile of entering classes.”
Bresciani also noted that annual private giving has increased more than five-fold in his tenure, while NDSU has “continued to climb within the ranks of the National Science Foundation’s top 100 private and public research universities.” He also said that NDSUs operating budget has grown during that timeframe to over $500 million.
Bresciani received his Ph.D. in higher education-finance from the University of Arizona in 1996.
Pam Benoit, provost and executive vice president of Ohio University
Pam Benoit has been with OU since 2009, when she joined the university after a four-year tenure as vice provost of advanced studies and dean of the graduate school at the University of Missouri. Prior to that, from 2003-2005, she was associate/assistant dean of the graduate school at that university. The University of Missouri is a flagship public research university with more than 32,000 students enrolled as of fall 2016.
Benoit in recent years has applied to a number of chancellor or president jobs at other universities. Most recently, she took herself out of the running for the open position of chancellor of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale in mid-2015. Also in 2015, she was dropped from consideration for the position of the University of Colorado’s chancellor, WOUB News reported.
“Pam Benoit was the sole candidate for the position at the institution as of late last month, but University of Colorado President Bruce Benson said last week the school’s search for a new leader failed to find a candidate with vast support,” WOUB reported.
Also in 2013, Benoit withdrew as a finalist for the position of chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
During her time at OU, Benoit pointed out in her CV that she helped implement a number of policies important to the university, including The Ohio Guarantee, which locks students’ tuition and fees at the same rate for four years of a student’s attendance at OU, which has been billed by OU as a way of ensuring transparency for students and parents.
She also said that she helped OU develop its innovation strategy, which assists OU in determining how it invests in research proposals.
Meanwhile, Benoit said in her CV, she helped pursue “enrollment targets” and a five-year enrollment plan at OU, in part helping OU grow its enrollment from 30,000 students in 2009 to roughly 38,000 students in 2014 while meeting metrics for student diversity. Those numbers include all the campuses plus distance learning.
Benoit received her Ph.D. in communications from Wayne State University in 1979.
Duane Nellis, former president of Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University is a public research university located in Lubbock, Texas, with four campuses in Texas. It has the sixth-largest student enrollment of all universities in Texas, with 36,551 total students enrolled as of fall semester 2016, up by about 4,200 students since 2011.
Nellis announced he would be stepping down from his position as TTU’s president in early 2016, with his resignation effective Jan. 22, 2017, although he noted he would continue on as a tenured faculty member, the website Everything Lubbock reported. Prior to that announcement, Nellis had been a finalist for the job of president at the University of Wyoming, but he did not get that job. Nellis has since stepped down from the president’s position, and is an “honors professor” at TTU.
From what The NEWS could see from online articles, Nellis hasn’t been directly tied with any major controversies during his tenure at TTU. Still, Nellis did resign from his position at TTU after a relatively short tenure of three years. According to an article in the Laramie Boomerang, during a campus visit in 2015 to the University of Wyoming, Nellis did note some issues he had with the chancellor of the university system of TTU.
"The chancellor of the system, who’s generally from a political background, has his office in the same building as me …. It’s been, the fit, I thought it’d be something I’d be able to adjust to and overcome, but the fit and the context is more challenging than I thought … there’s a little bit of tension in that context," Nellis reportedly said.
As president of TTU, Nellis said in his CV, the university qualified for funding through the National Research University fund of the state of Texas, and was elevated to the “highest” research category in the Carnegie classification of institutions of higher education. Also during his tenure, he “expanded and enhanced research and creative scholarship consistent with top-tier national research universities, while promoting inter-disciplinary research efforts,” he said in his CV, while expanding outreach and engagement with community partners and “global connections.”
During his tenure as president of the University of Idaho, Nellis said he helped implement a special rewards system in which the university’s “most productive faculty and staff” received new professional development opportunities.
That university also “became more entrepreneurial as a higher-education institution including being more innovative, and creative, and where joint venture opportunities present and themselves from external foundations, businesses or corporations, took advantage of those opportunities,” Nellis said.
Nellis got his Ph.D. in geography from Oregon State University in 1980.