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North Dakota State University is not military friendly and is failing its veterans

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November 11, 2015

Dear Dr. Bresciani and Dr. Ingram,

It is with considerable disappointment and focused resolve that we write to you today. On this day, a day set aside to honor the service of military members and veterans, we respectfully ask you as the top administrators at North Dakota State University (NDSU) to make a commitment to address inequities, injustices, and mismanagement that have affected NDSU’s Military and Veteran Services office and commit to ensuring the quality and extent of services military and veteran students deserve.  We ask this not just for ourselves, but on behalf of all military and veteran members who are, or will be, students at NDSU.

There are more 450 military and veteran students on NDSU’s campus. The vast majority of these students are receiving educational benefits based on their military service.  To certify these benefits a campus must have a “certifying official” who aids military and veteran students with the application process and certifies their enrollment to receive benefits.  The work required of the certifying official warrants a minimum of one full-time staff member.  To meet the unique needs of military and veteran students additional staff members are needed.  Despite regular requests to add another full-time staff member to the Military and Veteran Services office to meet students’ needs, the certifying official position remains as the only NDSU paid position.  In addition, the university has operated the Military and Veteran Services office on a shoestring budget and utilizes an office location that does not take into account the specific needs of the students it serves.  

In the absence of support from the university, the Military and Veteran Services office has utilized work study positions that are fully paid by the VA as a means by which military and veteran services can be delivered.  These work study students have helped to address the gap that existed at NDSU and have come to be viewed as an essential resource for peer advocacy and assistance.  The work study students, as members of the military and veteran community, understand the challenges and frustrations their fellow students face and have been able to nurture a military and veteran friendly climate that acknowledges, respects, and honors the unique culture that exists with the military and veteran community. 

The issues regarding staffing and budget, lack of sufficient space, and lack of institutional support have been endemic issues in the Military and Veteran Services office.  Over the years, the office has been largely ignored and has, at best, been an afterthought. However, despite the university’s seeming disregard of, and commitment to, military and veteran students, the population’s needs were met as best they could be for years by former Military and Veteran Services Coordinator Kaarin Remmich and a dedicated team of work study staff she amassed and empowered.

Kaarin and her team greatly improved the quality and extent of services to military and veteran students at NDSU.  Over the years, it was clear to military and veteran students that Kaarin and her staff genuinely cared, and were passionate about, serving the specific needs of our community.  Despite the lack of resources and support put forth by the institution, military and veterans needs were met based on Kaarin and her team’s tenacity and commitment. Yet, Kaarin and the team were often frustrated at the hollow promises of support for military and veteran students from administrators that never resulted in an adequate budget, the necessary space, or the pledged support.

When Kaarin went on maternity leave in May 2015, her team was asked to continue providing the high level support that military and veteran students had come to expect from them. The team was encouraged by Registrar Rhonda Kitch to help Kaarin’s short-term replacement (who was not experienced as a certifying official) to perform the necessary certifying official duties. Over the summer, while Kaarin was on maternity leave, the team worked to do both their regular duties and Kaarin’s duties. They did so based on their dedication to meeting the needs of military and veteran students.

Unfortunately, shortly after returning from maternity leave Kaarin made the difficult choice to leave NDSU. This was based in large part due to her frustration with the previously mentioned endemic issues. Once Kaarin’s supervisors learned of her intent to leave NDSU, the posture toward Kaarin and the team turned particularly hostile and retaliatory. Despite seven years of excellent service to NDSU, in Kaarin’s last weeks at NDSU she was exposed to unwarranted bitterness and petty behavior by supervisors and co-workers who should have been able to conduct themselves professionally.  Her team was likewise treated coldly and without professionalism.  The treatment visited upon Kaarin and her team did not sit well with the military and veteran community.

When the coordinator position opening was listed, one of Kaarin’s long-standing team members, who happens to be one of the most recognized and respected veterans on campus, was strongly encouraged to apply by the military and veteran community.  This veteran, Calie Lindseth, applied to the position with an unmatched wealth of knowledge regarding all the benefit programs, access and reporting software, campus and community partners, and NDSU military and veteran students. In addition, Calie’s long history of passionate advocacy and leadership has been well-documented and has earned the respect, attention, and accolades of local and national leaders.

Ultimately, it was the search process for the coordinator’s position, coupled with the cumulative actions of Registrar Rhonda Kitch that resulted in the impetus to address not only the enduring issues, but also what has become an increasingly intolerant environment that is ignorant of military and veteran challenges, needs, and culture.  Registrar Rhonda Kitch (who supervises the Military and Veteran Services office) has evidenced in word and deed that she does not understand, or care to understand, the importance of honor, integrity, trust, or leadership to the military and veteran community.  She likewise has evidenced that she is not capable of operating with honor, integrity, trust, or leadership. She has relied heavily on the work study students and empowered them to complete essential work in the absence of knowledgeable and capable staff only to come back to them later to chastise the level of engagement she asked for and endorsed; she has created an unsupportive environment for the work study students and has blamed them for her own lack of oversight and engagement; and, she has made unsubstantiated claims and unsupported accusations that question the character and sully the reputations of respected members of the military and veteran community.

Most unsettling are the end result that came Monday and Tuesday of this week after Registrar Rhonda Kitch’s claims and accusations instigated the removal from campus of a long-standing Military and Veteran Services office team member and caused another team member to tender his resignation.  The loss of both of these team members can be directly tied to Registrar Rhonda Kitch’s mismanagement of the Military and Veteran Services office and accusations she has made about, and to, team members.  The loss of these team members will dramatically affect services provided to military and service students and has gravely undermined confidence in Registrar Rhonda Kitch’s ability to supervise the Military and Veteran Services office and the university’s ability to meet the needs of this population.

When the inequities that have been evidenced historically are added to the most recent actions and injustices, a disappointing picture emerges of NDSU’s true commitment to military and veteran students. NDSU must deliver more than lip service to meet the needs of this community. There must be recognition that military and veteran students are a unique population that has specific and different needs and a culture of its own.  We ask that you meet with the military and veteran students on campus and address the ways in which you will lead NDSU in creating a better-supported, understanding, and culturally sensitive campus community that respects and honors military and veteran students.

Respectfully,

Thomas Webb, Colin Larrabee, and Christopher Eggen

 



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