Three months after a petition’s criticism and employees’ resignations, North Dakota State’s military and veterans services office is getting back to a better place.
Renamed the military and veterans certification area, the office is tied to NDSU registration and records and its past space at Ceres 211. The office now has a full-time certifying officer following last fall’s failed search for a new officer. The office also has a backup employee who served as interim certifying officer.
The overhaul also comes following the veterans’ petition criticizing registrar Rhonda Kitch’s handling of the office after National Guard education officer Calie Lindseth was not selected as the certifying officer to replace Kaarin Remmich. Remmich left following what former office employee and petition co-writer Tom Webb said was poor treatment.
“All I want is a peaceful resolution,” Webb said last fall.
Scott Fuller, a retired, 30-year Air Force veteran, is now the office’s full-time certifying officer.
“He’s been very busy training and reach out and connecting with the key stakeholder that he needs to across campus … and learning the ropes,” Kitch said.
Also on staff is Mike Paolini, Bison Connection associate and interim certifying officer following Remmich’s departure.
“We’re excited about that. Mike has lots of knowledge,” Kitch said, adding Paolini’s employment is a first for the office, having a backup certifying official.
Four other employees resigned last fall, Webb included, who said he left because of a “conscience thing” due to accusations of berating, bulling, blaming, intimidating, swearing and non-compliance, to which Kitch put forth without specifics, he said.
“You tell me that I’m doing these things and that I’m allowing these things to happen while I’m here, but then you won’t give me any example of what happened so I can fix the problem,” Webb said last fall. “I feel I can’t trust you. So that’s why I left.”
Kitch said the work of the office’s four work study students has been reexamined and streamlined with a database.
“We were able to develop a database to do that (work) in 90 seconds,” she said, adding the office would have need for maybe one or two work study students.
‘Not a popular decision’
Kitch chalked last fall’s office fallout up to a “failed search” and an unpopular decision in not hiring Lindseth for certifying officer.
“I know that there were a lot of concerns because there was one individual that was very well known to a number of students; however, there was a lot of information relayed to me that I needed to keep very confidential,” she said. “There were some very specific concerns relayed to me that if I shared those specific concerns with the work study students, it would have been identified who the individuals were that had concerns, so I have to keep that confidential.”
Last fall’s petition said Lindseth had “an unmatched wealth of knowledge regarding all the benefit programs, access and reporting software, campus and community partners and NDSU military and veteran students.”
Lindseth was removed from the office Nov. 9 after Kitch dissolved an unofficial agreement Remmich made with Lindseth that put her in the vets office, Webb said.
“It was some feedback that I heard not just from one or two individuals, it was students as well staff members that had a variety of experiences not just with a certain person but … they expressed a number of concerns that were going on in the office,” Kitch said, adding she impressed the importance of respect and professionalism upon the office’s work study students.
Kitch moved her office to Ceres 211 in mid-November. Following the other employee’s departures, Kitch said she was in the vets office “pretty much full-time” to “provide better oversight” with door updates when she was gone.
After returning to her Ceres 110 office in early December, she made the decision to close the office every afternoon, keeping the space open 8 a.m. to noon every day while sending students with questions to Bison Connection and registration & records outside those hours.
As for Webb’s concerns of Kitch’s withholding specifics regarding accusations in the office, Kitch said she was “ensuring a professional work environment where people were treated with respect” and aiming for high-level customer service.
“I understand it’s frustrating to not have that specifics to not know how that connects to what the situation was,” she said. “That would be highly inappropriate for me to breach that and share that situation.”
Kitch continues oversight of the office, including Fuller’s ongoing training and providing “accurate and timely certification.”
A town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon in the Memorial Union’s Great Room hosted by North Dakota veterans affairs commissioner Lonnie Wangen allowed veterans and military students to share their questions, concerns and experiences.
Frank Anderson, 64-year-old Vietnam War veteran who attended the town hall, voiced multiple concerns ranging from commercial drivers license testing to veterans’ family benefits.
“North Dakota ranks on the bottom,” he said, addressing 529 Plans, a higher education savings plan. “Every year, I check out North Dakota and we are on the bottom of that. … We should not be on the bottom of that.”
Other attendees questioned the service of NDSU’s vets office and accessibility to the states’ veteran service officers.
Anderson, who said he has “six Agent Orange-related disabilities,” also addressed accessibility of the state’s veterans affairs website.
“I don’t think you’ll find more of a walking expert on these issues than myself that can at least talk to you with some intelligence. … ,” he said. “You need to have tremendous office skills to do what you need to do to get something done though the veteran system because … there are people who say they’re there to help you but they’re not. It doesn’t happen.”