GRAND FORKS — The search for the next University of North Dakota president officially kicked off Tuesday, July 9, with the first of three listening sessions.

Search committee co-chairs Denny Elbert, former dean of the UND business school, and State Board of Higher Education member Casey Ryan spent more than an hour talking to faculty and staff members about what they would like to see in the next president.

Ryan said he hopes the next president will be named by October or November and would be in place by the next school year. The search committee will forward at least three names for interviews with the State Board of Higher Education.

"We don't want to drag this thing out," Ryan told the group of more than two dozen or so UND employees.

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Ryan noted that faculty/staff morale is low on campus, and he hopes the next president will work to boost that morale.

"We're not looking for someone who is going to build their (resume) and leave," Ryan said.

The search committee will have its first full meeting later this month.

Ryan said the committee has a preference for someone who has connections to UND or North Dakota, but noted it would not rule out a candidate who does not have ties to the area.

Faculty and staff said they would like someone who is invested in higher education in North Dakota, puts students first, listens to those around them and includes input from the faculty and staff before making a decision.

Other members said the next president should understand today's students and should help the university move forward to becoming a top-rated research university, while others said the person can't sit around in an office all day.

Jeff Holm, vice provost for online education and strategic planning and a Michigan native, said while a connection to North Dakota is important, it's vital to find someone who can understand what draws people to North Dakota and what makes them want to stay.

"If you can figure out how to identify what draws people, what kept me (in North Dakota and at UND)," he said. "That's what I want in a president, more than that they graduated from here or that they grew up here."

Another faculty member said the next president should have a passion for the students of UND and the Greater Grand Forks community, even if not from North Dakota.

Elbert said he was happy with the turnout and the conversations that come out of the meeting. Elbert said the committee is looking at hiring a recruiting firm, not a search firm, to assist in the process. A recruiting firm would be able to help make a stronger connection with a candidate directly, whereas a search firm casts for a wider net of candidates.

"The search firms ... they probably have a list of 50 people who they know are out there looking for a job," Ryan said after the meeting. "We want to see that connection. We need someone who's passionate. You can be passionate without having gone to UND or even being from North Dakota. ... With a recruiting firm, if you have a name, you'll go after them even if they're not already out there."

The new president will succeed Mark Kennedy, who left the school in June to become president of the University of Colorado System. Joshua Wynne, UND vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been serving as interim president since June 16.

There will be two more listening sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. Both will be held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Center for Innovation in the James Ray Meeting Room. Parking is open during the meeting.