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NDSU vice president resigns, indicts Chapman in letter

John Adams

Joseph Chapman intimidated his chief finance officer to push a remodeling project forward without proper approval and ignored repeated warnings about projected budget shortfalls, according to a detailed resignation letter from that officer.

John Adams, North Dakota State University vice president for finance and administration, outlined several frustrations with the former president in his Wednesday resignation letter to President Dick Hanson.

Adams, who held his post since August 2006, said in the letter that he knowingly circumvented state board policy to push through a $435,000 remodeling project of the president's office.

"While I know this was the wrong approach, I also felt my only choice was to proceed or risk losing my job," Adams wrote.

Adams said in the letter that Chapman told him not to bring the remodeling project to the state Board of Higher Education and that Chancellor Bill Goetz had given it the OK.

Adams said he urged Chapman to wait six months to a year to start the project.

"His response, in a very intimidating manner, was to get it done," Adams wrote.

Adams then split the Old Main project into several separate projects to keep each under $250,000, an amount triggering board-mandated approval.

Adams said he did this after consulting with Bob Gallagher, who held the equivalent vice president role at the University of North Dakota at the time and who he said completed a project in similar fashion.

Goetz, in an interview Wednesday, said he did have a discussion with Chapman about the office remodeling project, but he assumed the intention was to follow board policy.

Goetz also said the remodeling project as Chapman presented it to him was "less expensive and less expansive."

In the letter, Adams mentions that the president's assistant, Cathy Backer, was present for the conversation when Adams urged Chapman to wait on the project.

Backer said Wednesday she doesn't dispute what Adams says, but she recalls the situation differently.

"It wasn't 'Get it done or else,' " Backer recalled. "He (Chapman) just wanted to have it finished."

The total cost of the Old Main projects was $805,000, with the president's remodeling project costing more than half of that.

Also in the letter, Adams said he and NDSU Budget Director Karla Mongeon-Stewart cautioned Chapman about potential budget shortfalls, "but to no avail." Adams includes a memo sent to Chapman in November 2008 that spelled out their concerns.

"He simply left the university with the situation unresolved," Adams wrote.

Mongeon-Stewart said Wednesday she and Adams had discussions with Chapman about making sure resources weren't committed before they were available.

"I think he (Chapman) truly believed that the increase in students would cover what we needed and that we would make it work, even though we were telling him otherwise," Mongeon-Stewart said.

Adams did not return calls seeking comment.

An attempt to reach Chapman through his former assistant also was unsuccessful.

Hanson said he did not ask Adams to resign.

"I very much appreciate John's service and I feel sad about the circumstances," Hanson said. "He's always had the best interest of the university in mind."

It was unknown Wednesday if Adams has a new job.

A review process of vice presidents was set to begin this week. An audit of several NDSU projects, including the president's house and the Old Main project, is expected this spring.

Hanson said he's not expecting good news from the auditors.

"I have a feeling they're going to call into question processes that either were not followed or followed incorrectly," he said.

Hanson appointed Broc Lietz to take Adams' place for a term of one year, effective immediately.

Lietz previously served as associate vice president for finance and administration. Lietz also held the interim vice president role prior to Adams' arrival.