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NDSU presidential candidate David Cook visits campus, offers thoughts on enrollment, inclusion

The first candidate came to campus Wednesday and laid out strategies for attracting more students.

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David Cook, a public affairs leader at the University of Kansas, speaks during an interview session at North Dakota State University in the Oceti Sakowin Ballroom in the Memorial Union on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — David Cook has a lot of ideas for increasing enrollment at North Dakota State University, but he says the school shouldn’t just focus on numbers.

“It’s not just about enrollment,” said Cook, the first of five candidates to visit NDSU as they vie for the president’s office. “It’s about educating more students and changing more people’s lives.”

Wearing a Bison green and yellow tie with his suit, Cook took questions Wednesday, Jan. 26, at the Memorial Union from faculty, staff, students and others.

The candidates hope to replace President Dean Bresciani, after the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education voted not to extend his contract past December 2022. A search committee will meet Friday, Feb. 4, to choose three finalists.

The higher education board will interview those candidates in late February before naming the next president, who could take office around July 1.

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David Cook, a public affairs leader at the University of Kansas, speaks during an interview session at North Dakota State University in the Oceti Sakowin Ballroom in the Memorial Union on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum

Enrollment at NDSU has trended downward for seven years to a 15-year low of 12,461 students. The university is not alone in the national trend, said Cook, vice chancellor for public affairs and economic development at the University of Kansas.

There are strategies to increase enrollment, such as turning to nontraditional students, asking what the industry and businesses in the region need, and engaging in more digital marketing, Cook said.

The student body for the University of Kansas-Edwards campus jumped 36% over a seven-year period when he was the vice chancellor there, Cook said. He also launched 16 academic degree programs, along with 21 certificate programs.

Cook said he's drawn to NDSU because it's a land-grant university. He grew up in Ames, Iowa, home to land-grant institution Iowa State University.

“There’s something about that that’s really important to me,” he said. “If you grew up there, it’s sort of part of your DNA.”

He also noted NDSU is ranked by the Carnegie Classification Institutions of Higher Education as a “very high research activity” school, also known as R1. It’s one of three schools in the upper Midwest region and the only one in North Dakota to have that classification.

That will allow NDSU to attract the best faculty and create opportunities for staff and students, Cook said in noting he wants to build upon that.

“You have something very special here when it comes to research,” Cook said. “You are in elite company.”

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He said he loves the brand that NDSU has created through Bison athletics, but added that athletics, academics and other parts of the university need to work together to make the institution great.

NDSU faculty and students have called on the school’s next leader to take the time to listen to them, particularly when it comes to choosing administration and forming policies around inclusion.

Cook said he has met with faculty and student senate leadership, adding that good leaders make it a priority to listen to and engage with stakeholders.

He said he would try to create a more inclusive environment. That includes hiring staff and faculty who are diverse.

“Then you start to change the demographic, change the perspective of the community, and I think that, over time, starts to create a lot of other opportunities,” he said.

Debra Larson, provost and vice president of academic affairs at California State University in Chico, will be the next presidential candidate to visit NDSU on Thursday, Jan. 27.

The other candidates include:

  • Hesham El-Rewini, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Marymount University in the Washington, D.C., area. He was dean of the College of Engineering and Mines at the University of North Dakota until 2019.
  • Mary Holz-Clause, chancellor of the University of Minnesota-Crookston and acting executive chancellor for the Crookston and Morris U of M campuses.
  • Michael Tidwell, immediate past president of the University of Texas at Tyler.
April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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