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Union: Tesch dispute to move to arbitration

BEMIDJI—The dispute over the termination of a longtime Bemidji State University football coach will be heard by an arbitrator, according to representatives from the coach's union.

Head coach Jeff Tesch was placed on leave a few days before the 2016 football season began, and was formally fired in early November. Staff from the Inter Faculty Organization—Tesch's union—filed a grievance shortly after his termination and said Tuesday that they had requested arbitration.

Jeff Tesch

Tesch patrolled the Beavers' sidelines for 20 years before he was placed on paid leave days before the team's Sept. 1 season-opening game.

Shortly before his November termination, Tesch told Pioneer staff that he had been disciplined for using a racial slur at a preseason practice.

Players, Tesch said, objected to his use of the word and complained to university staff. Tesch admitted using the slur—which he characterized as "the n-word"—but maintained that he was quoting music that was playing during the August practice.

Now that the union has requested arbitration, the next step is for union and university representatives to agree on an arbitrator from a predetermined panel of five, said Kathryn Engdahl, a faculty organization lawyer. After that, they'll work to get on the arbitrator's schedule before having a hearing where the university will need to prove that Tesch's discipline was done with just cause, she explained.

Scott Faust, the university's director of communications and marketing, said he could only confirm that Tesch is no longer a university employee.

The union's contract with the university stipulates that employees are subject to "progressive discipline," which means that supervisors are required to issue a verbal reprimand, then a written reprimand, then a suspension before an employee can be dismissed under the contract. However, the contract also allows for "extenuating circumstances" that would allow the university to forego that structure.

Engdahl said Tesch was never given a verbal or written warning before he was placed on an investigative suspension.

"It's clear that (the university) didn't follow progressive discipline," Engdahl said. "Our position is that there are no extenuating circumstances that would justify departure from progressive discipline."

The union and university's contract indicates that the arbitrator's decision is final and binding.

Under interim head coach Brent Bolte, the Beavers went on to have one of their best seasons in recent memory, notching the team's first-ever postseason victory in the Mineral Water Bowl

In late December, BSU Director of Athletics Tracy Dill told Lakeland Public Television that Bolte would remain the interim coach if Tesch does not win his old job back.

A Robbinsdale native, Tesch played tight end for Moorhead State and also has coached at Montana State, Central Missouri State and North Dakota.

He compiled a 126-91 record at BSU.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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