A letter arrived in the hands of the editor of the Herald last week. It just arrived; we’ll leave it at that.

It was on stationary from the North Dakota University System. It was signed, presumably by NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott. Addressed to Mark Kennedy, it was sent by Hagerott to accept what Hagerott feels was Kennedy’s “de facto resignation” as UND’s president and wished him well in his endeavor to become the next president of the University of Colorado.

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The chairman of the State Board of Higher Education later told the Herald he considered it a personal email.

“I’m sure (Hagerott) didn’t think it would become a public record so fast,” Don Morton said. “It was a personal email, which means someone sent it to someone in the media.”

First things first. The Herald scrambled to learn if the letter was real. To the credit of UND officials – including top spokeswoman Meloney Linder and President Kennedy himself – its legitimacy was confirmed.

The letter has triggered a flurry of questions.

  • Whose idea was it?

Dan Traynor, a lawyer and State Board of Higher Education member, told the Herald he initially discussed the strategy with fellow board members Morton and Nick Hacker, but not Hagerott. Morton, however, told the Herald he didn’t know what the intent was.

“Our attorney and another board member worked with (Hagerott) on it,” Morton said.

Those answers don’t jibe, and that’s concerning. Morton, as chairman of the board, should have known the letter’s intent.

  • Is the letter an opening salvo in what could become a legal battle? Apparently so.

“I think it was a good idea because it protects the state of North Dakota and the taxpayers and preserves our legal rights as far as the University System is concerned,” Traynor told the Herald. “We have an obligation to protect the state of North Dakota and the taxpayers and I believe this letter was in conformance of that obligation.”

Morton, however, said Kennedy “has got a contract. We’re going to honor that contract. We’re going to maintain our integrity.”

Again, those answers don’t jibe.

  • Was Hagerott’s letter a “personal email,” as Morton suggests?

No. When it’s from the chancellor to a university president, on state letterhead, sent through a state email system, it is anything but personal. Morton should know that. If Hagerott had hand written a note on his personal stationary, we still would consider it public record.

Sending the letter was the right thing to do because the state needs to be protected if any sort of legal wrangling ensues. Because of that, we consider the letter a prudent action by the board.

In a perfect world, however, the accounts of the letter’s background would match. That would be the best way to reassure North Dakotans that the ship is being appropriately sailed.

Morton’s credibility as the leader of the board is dented as varying accounts come out, and also if he doesn’t understand that the letter, the moment it was written, was a public record.