More than 100 students, faculty and community members packed into Baker Ballroom for the second in a series of four public forums featuring candidates for Ohio University’s next president.
Dean Bresciani, who has served as the president of North Dakota State University since 2010, began the forum by describing his personal experience as a first-generation college student, having grown up in Napa Valley, California, to a family of Italian immigrants.
Bresciani explained to the audience he “didn’t have the opportunity to be raised in a privileged environment” and had struggled to garner support from his family to pursue a college education. He holds a Ph.D. in higher education-finance from the University of Arizona.
His ongoing journey in higher education, he explained, has led him to OU.
“How could I not be interested in this position?” Bresciani said. “You are — in movies and books and songs — what colleges and universities are supposed to be like."
Bresciani is slated to maintain his status as NDSU president until “at least June 2018, assuming no prior resignation,” according to The Spectrum, NDSU’s student newspaper.
Questions from the audience tackled a wide array of topics, ranging from diversity and inclusion initiatives to the issues of sexual assault and tensions with campus activists.
Graduate Student Senate President Ian Armstrong questioned Bresciani during the forum about a controversial email situation during his time at NDSU.
In 2013, it was discovered that more than 45,000 emails had been reportedly deleted from the presidential candidate’s inbox on the same day the North Dakota Legislative Council requested emails from State Board of Higher Education officials.
The attorney general released an opinion later that year that said the system had violated open records law but not whether the deletion of the emails was intentional, according to The Dickinson Press, a paper in Dickinson, North Dakota, located about four hours from NDSU.
During Thursday’s forum, Bresciani denied any wrongdoing, claiming the attorney general found no violation of law, and he blamed local media for sensationalizing the story.
“I’m assuming you’re basing (the question) off media reports,” Bresciani said. “Our media is just as colorful as your media, and oftentimes higher education is an easy target.”
Following the forum, Armstrong described Bresciani as “well-spoken,” although he remained undecided as to which candidate he prefered.
OU presidential candidate and former Texas Tech University President Duane Nellis was the first to participate in a public forum, which took place Tuesday.
“He’s a very intelligent individual. He’s done very well for himself,” Armstrong said. “It’s a toss-up. I think I like Nellis better at this point, but it’s hard to say. We’ll see what the next two candidates look like.”
Bresciani also responded to questions regarding funding for university athletics, stating that problems have “gotten worse, not better,” when it comes to using student fees to subsidize Division I athletics.
“No one can step away (from Division I sports) first,” Bresciani said. “The consequences because of the expectations of consistency at major resource universities to step away from D-I athletics gets to be a real problem on the national level. No one can step away from the table first.”
Bresciani told the audience he didn’t want to be “critical” of certain topics relating specifically to OU, especially when it comes to subjects such as tenure and faculty research, two subjects that arose on multiple occasions.
“Without tenure, you could argue even more so today, faculty would be extremely limited in their academic freedoms,” Bresciani said. “I’m a very strong proponent of tenure … but we will soon have to get much, much better at describing what tenure is or what tenure is not.”
Former Faculty Senate Chair Beth Quitslund, who brought forth her concerns about falling academic rankings on a national scale, understood why Bresciani avoided certain questions.
“I thought he was very personable. I thought he answered some questions more directly than others, as one would expect,” Quitslund, an associate English professor, said after the forum. “I was also slightly concerned in that I got from him such mixed signals about what it is he envisions as research productivity (and) how he imagines tenure to play a role in that.”
Members of the media were not permitted to ask questions during or after the event.
Two additional forums will be held in Baker Ballroom, and will feature presidential candidates Robert Frank and Pam Benoit on Jan. 13 and 17, respectively.