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UND fires research center director: Groenewold blames ‘intense’ personality and disagreements over EERC funding

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GRAND FORKS — University of North Dakota officials confirmed Thursday that President Robert Kelley has fired the director of UND’s Energy and Environmental Research Center.

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Gerald Groenewold was put on administrative leave in early May without explanation, he said, until he was recently notified of his official dismissal.

He said the move was based on his “intense” personality and disagreements over EERC funding.

Through his executive assistant, Kelley verified Groenewold had been fired and that Thomas Erickson, the EERC’s associate director for business, operations and intellectual property, is now in charge of the day-to-day operations of the facility until further notice. He, along with UND spokesman Peter Johnson, declined to comment further on the matter.

Money trouble

Groenewold said the university claimed there were several reasons for firing him, but that the two main causes were his admittedly intense personality and a disagreement over how the EERC’s funding should work.

Groenewold said he had a strong personality, but didn’t think it should be grounds for dismissal.

“I’m not going to apologize for it,” he said.

His other alleged reason for dismissal stemmed from a January memo Groenewold sent to Kelley regarding the EERC’s funding stating, “it has become very apparent that the EERC certainly cannot thrive and that its very survival is challenged unless there is a change ...” in regard to Facilities and Administrative funding that is allotted to the EERC by UND.

In the memo, Erickson wrote that the EERC had been deprived of more than $2.5 million for the last three years because the EERC’s portion of the money hasn’t been calculated based on actual funding needs.

“The current method of allocating F&A is designed for the EERC to lose money,” Erickson wrote, adding that the EERC has reduced its overhead costs by $3.3 million over the past few years.

Groenwold also was known for communicating openly with legislators about the EERC’s financial needs and said it played a part in his dismissal, though he objected to it being used against him.

“I was paid for my intellect and my relationship-building capabilities,” he said.

Changing attitudes

The EERC, which is part of UND, employs 235 people and is an applied research, development and commercialization facility focusing on efficient energy and environmental technologies.

Total expenditures were $31.2 million in fiscal year 2013 and its regional economic impact was $91.2 million, according to the EERC website. Johnson said he was unaware of any more organizational restructuring within the EERC.

Groenewold has been its director since 1987 and made about $308,000 annually, according to Johnson.

Letters from UND’s human resources office show Kelley had given Groenewold positive job reviews over the past few years and recommended a 4 percent pay raise last year.

University Police escorted Groenewold from the building when he was put on administrative leave a month ago and were stationed there again when Groenewold forgot to turn in keys still in his possession.

Groenewold said he was offered the option of being terminated without cause, but he and his legal counsel opted for termination with cause.

He said he thinks the university doesn’t have a strong case against him.

“The things they’ve listed as justification, I disagree vehemently with every one of them,” Groenewold said.

No official legal action has been taken by either side, according to Johnson.

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Anna Burleson
Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact Burleson with story ideas or tips by either phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. More examples of her work can be found at grandforksherald.com.
(701) 780-1114
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