While the head of the North Dakota University System and the leader of the State Board of Higher Education map out the search process to replace outgoing UND President Mark Kennedy, at least one member would like the board to try a slightly different route.
In an email addressed to NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott on May 7, SBHE member Dan Traynor said he had read news reports regarding the procedure for selecting a new UND president. Traynor said he was “not entirely comfortable with the idea of hiring an interim for a year and proceeding with yet another search.” The emails were obtained by the Herald through an open-records request.
Hagerott previously told the Herald an interim president could be in place for at least a year as the board and eventual search committee work to find the right person for the job.
After appointing an interim president, the chancellor and the board will form a search committee that includes members of the UND and Grand Forks community, as well as other higher education leaders, Hagerott said.
SBHE chair Don Morton also has been on the record expressing a similar sentiment.
Traynor suggested a much quicker timetable and would like to see the board appoint a new president quickly.
In the email, he requested the board consider conducting its own search of available talent within North Dakota or with some connection to the state. He proposed that the board allow some period of time for nominations and then the board can narrow the pool to two or three “suitable finalists.”
Traynor suggested that after the proposed candidates make presentations to the board, the SBHE can then make a decision at the end of June for a standard two-year contract.
Reached by phone Friday, Traynor told the Herald he would like to see the board name a president and then take time to evaluate the person and the search process.
“I’m hoping the person we would select would be a good fit for the job and will want to continue,” he said. “I think it’s unhelpful to ask UND to tread water for six months or a year.”
Traynor, who has been on the board for about a year and was not part of the 2016 presidential search, said in emails that he understands “several of the identified locally-connected candidates did not pursue the position because of the rigmarole associated with the whole search process” in 2016. He also was told the 2016 search cost around $100,000.
Traynor’s email goes on to state he is “concerned that the nationwide search firms with whom the NDUS has arrangements have little or no connection to the state of North Dakota.” He notes that there are at least two firms located in Bismarck that perform executive searches and wondered if there are other firms elsewhere in the state. Traynor said those firms need to be considered for any and all searches for NDUS institutions.
Traynor said the “repeated process of short-term presidents” followed by another search is “harmful” to the state’s flagship institution.
“After years of short-term presidents, I think UND needs some stability,” he wrote. “Keep in mind that the campus mood has been on edge for several years as the current president was known as a ‘looker’ and has been using UND as a stepping stone. I believe a more North Dakota-centric search will result in a pool of finalists that have a connection to the state or the university and will be much more likely to stay on the job.”
Traynor said two of whom he considered UND’s best presidents, Tom Clifford and John West, did not result from a nationwide search.
“They were home-grown talent and guided the university well during their administrations,” he said.
Hagerott sticks by proposal
Speaking by telephone to the Herald Friday, Hagerott stood by his proposal. Hagerott said while the top candidate for the job could be willing to leave a current position now, it’s more likely that person would want to finish out the year at their current job and then come to UND later.
“It’s still most likely that we do the search and allow the person to transition,” he said.
Hagerott said it is also likely a search firm will be used in the process. The board has utilized Washington, D.C.-based AGB Search for previous presidential searches, including most recently at Mayville State University and Valley City State.
“We want to be open to North Dakota firms that have done searches before,” he said. “I don’t know if we want to start with someone for the first time ever with the UND search due to the complexity there.”
Hagerott has a running list of potential interim or permanent candidates in his head, but does not have a formal, written list. He wouldn’t divulge those potential candidates.
Kennedy’s replacement in the interim will have to “keep the ship on a steady course,” Hagerott said, noting he has heard a lot of positive comments about UND’s strategic plan, which was formed under Kennedy’s leadership. Hagerott said the university also has been named one of the most innovative schools in the nation in the last 18 months, along with a variety of other accolades. An interim leader will need to keep that momentum going, he said.
“People should be proud of the school and what it’s doing,” Hagerott said. “We don’t want to cause undue disruption. The interim ... needs to keep the ship moving and keep the process going.”
For the permanent position, Hagerott said the next president needs to understand the changing world, as well as the thoughts and needs of North Dakota.
While having ties to North Dakota would not be a requirement, Hagerott said it would definitely be “desirable.”
“Our state is less than a million people and this is the flagship (university),” he said, which means UND has ties to the state, region and entire country.
The next permanent president needs to be able to work with leaders in the state and federal government to position UND as a partner on a variety of projects, he said.
The person needs to put UND and the state first over any career or personal interests, Hagerott said.
“(They should) be a servant leader,” he said. “Servant leadership is really important. You’re there to serve something bigger than yourself.”