NDSU presidential candidate Michael Tidwell emphasizes student goals, research during campus visit
The former University of Texas Tyler president spoke Friday to students. Hesham El-Rewini of Marymount University will come to campus next week.
FARGO — With 12,000-plus students, North Dakota State University has more than 12,000 different definitions of success, former University of Texas Tyler President Michael Tidwell said.
“We need to find out what students are shooting for in their lives and their careers,” he said Friday, Jan. 28, at the NDSU Memorial Union. “Then we need to come alongside each of every one of those students to ensure they achieve their goals.”
The third NDSU presidential candidate to visit campus touched on his passion for students and his vision for the university. If chosen to replace President Dean Bresciani, Tidwell would become the first Black leader of the school.
Tidwell has more than 20 years of experience in higher education, including as the Eastern Michigan University business dean and a similar position at Bloomberg University in Pennsylvania. He also taught at the University of Kentucky, a land grant school ranked by Carnegie as an R1, or “very high research activity,” university.
Tidwell's four-year tenure as the Tyler president ended after his school and the University of Texas Health Science Center merged. Center President Dr. Kirk Calhoun took over last year.
Calhoun is a medical doctor, while Tidwell has a Ph.D. in organizational studies. Media reports noted the two worked closely together to make the merger successful.
NDSU’s research and commitment to students are what prompted Tidwell to apply for the position, he said. The school has a passion for doing research that fits the needs of North Dakota, he said, serving the surrounding community is critical.
“It’s not just research for research’s sake,” he said of NDSU. “It’s research that’s applied to the needs of the community we serve.”
He said he would form a strategic plan that looks at the university’s past, defines what it is today and determines what it wants to become in the future. The process would begin with reaching out to faculty, staff and students to make sure their voices are heard, he said.
When asked about NDSU’s declining enrollment and what tactics he would take to reverse that trend, he noted retention issues at Tyler when he arrived. By implementing a number of enrollment and retention programs, he boosted rankings for the university so that the Chronicle of Higher Education named it one of the top 10 fastest growing schools in the nation, he said.
The top two reasons students don’t go to college are affordability and fear, Tidwell said. He discussed the importance of scholarships, but he also said creating programs or organizations that make students feel like they belong is key.
“Everybody wants to feel like they have a home when they’re away at college,” he said, adding students want to find people who are like them.
He said the NDSU presidential search committee is aware of a 2018 miscommunication during his tenure at Tyler that led to 63 full-ride scholarships being withdrawn. The school mistakenly offered too many scholarships to international students, most of which were promised to Nepali students.
That equated to about $1.7 million a year that the school couldn’t pay.
Tyler, which had a tuition of about $27,000 a year at that time, offered $5,000 a year for those students, as well as in-state tuition prices, according to media reports. That would have left the students to pay more than $10,000 a year, according to The Washington Post.
Other colleges stepped up to help, the article said.
Tidwell apologized for the miscommunication between the scholarship and budget offices. He told The Forum he implemented changes to make sure the two offices worked together better, including placing proper leadership in those departments.
“We were still able to offer more scholarship money that year than ever before across the University of Texas at Tyler,” he said. “I think even more importantly than that is, as we have settled a lot of those bumps in the road, that scholarship program has been extraordinarily successful on campus, and I think, in large part, is responsible for the significant enrollment increases that we've enjoyed over the last couple of years.”
Tidwell acknowledged that Tyler doesn’t have a football team, but he said he is very familiar with the NCAA. He feels comfortable working with athletics.
Hesham El-Rewini, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Marymount University in Washington, D.C., will be the next of five finalists to speak during a Feb. 2 forum at NDSU. On Feb. 4, the search committee is expected to forward three finalists to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, which will pick the next president.