FARGO — A State Board of Higher Education member from West Fargo could not secure a spot on the search committee for North Dakota State University’s next president, despite voicing what he called "concern in the Fargo community."

The board unanimously voted Thursday, July 22, to hire a consulting firm to help find President Dean Bresciani’s replacement. The NDSU leader of 11 years will leave the post by the end of 2022 after the board did not renew his contract last month.

The vote also included appointing board member Jill Louters of Sheyenne, North Dakota, and NDSU Vice President for Agricultural Affairs Greg Lardy as co-chairs of a search committee that will vet candidates. The full board will ultimately choose NDSU’s next head.

What was not approved was board member Jeffry Volk’s request to be named to the search committee. His motion died after failing to get a second.

Jeffrey Volk
Jeffrey Volk

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Typically, co-chairs select committee members, with advice from North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott. Those members likely would include NDSU employees and alumni, as well as local business and community members connected to NDSU, Hagerott told The Forum after the meeting.

Volk, who joined the State Board of Higher Education this year, said he wanted to be on the search committee since he's from the Fargo area and has close ties to NDSU. He earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the university and is the CEO and executive chair of the West Fargo-based Moore Holding Co.

“In the light of the sudden announcement of President Bresciani’s departure, there is quite a lot of concern in the Fargo community,” he said. “I think it would be unfortunate if … the Fargo member was not part of the search committee.”

Local business leaders were shocked by the announcement that Bresciani would step down next year. Some called it disappointing, noting the president built partnerships with local business and industry leaders.

The board hasn’t cited a specific reason for not giving Bresciani a contract renewal, but a critical evaluation by Hagerott raised concerns about declining enrollment, NDSU’s “eroding” research status compared to other schools across the country and a provost search that raised a “reputational risk” since the successful candidate did not apply for the position.

When asked about that critical evaluation, Hagerott said he's focused on the presidential search and looking to the future.

"That's all been done," Hagerott said of the decision on Bresciani. "The board's decided."

Hagerott said he recommended Louters, who is vice chair of the Higher Education Board, because of her experience in education and connections to Minnesota, as NDSU attracts students from the neighboring state.

It would be unusual to have a second board member on the search committee, Hagerott said. He said he doesn't want to take away a spot from NDSU or Fargo-area community members.

The school has good representation in Lardy, Hagerott said. He said he expects everyone on the search committee, aside from Louters, will have a connection to NDSU. The search is estimated to cost $80,000 to $100,000.

Hagerott told The Forum a timeline for the search is in the works. The university system has to choose a consulting firm first before that timeline is solidified, he added. He said he would like to have a list of applicants narrowed down to finalists by February, and a president chosen by March 1.

“It’s crucial we get the search going,” Hagerott said. “Timing is crucial.”

Bresciani, whose annual salary is $371,380, would give up his presidential duties if his replacement is chosen before the end of his contract. He will then transition into a professorship of human sciences and education at NDSU.