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Search for North Dakota State University president narrowed to 3 finalists

David Cook, Mary Holz-Clause and Hesham El-Rewini will move on to the final round as they compete to replace NDSU President Dean Bresciani.

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FARGO — A committee has chosen three finalists in the North Dakota State University presidential search.

The candidates who will have interviews with the State Board of Higher Education later this month are:

  • David Cook, vice chancellor for public affairs and economic development at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
  • Hesham El-Rewini, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs for Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.
  • Mary Holz-Clause, chancellor for the University of Minnesota Crookston and acting executive chancellor for the University of Minnesota’s Crookston and Morris campuses.

A search committee met behind closed doors for 4 1/2 hours Friday, Feb. 4, at the NDSU Memorial Union before announcing the finalists. North Dakota law allows governing bodies to meet in executive session to discuss candidates before finalists are named.

The interviews with the higher education board, slated for Wednesday, Feb. 23, will be open to the public. The board will choose NDSU President Dean Bresciani's replacement.

The candidates haven't been ranked. The one chosen to replace Bresciani is expected to take office around July 1.

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The announcement came after the search committee narrowed down a pool of 47 applicants to five that were invited to campus for in-person interviews. Over a two-week period, the five prospects visited NDSU and spoke with faculty, staff, students, alumni, news reporters and local business leaders.

California State University Chico Provost and Vice President of Public Affairs Debra Larson and former University of Texas Tyler President Michael Tidwell also were invited to NDSU.

While visiting campus, Cook spoke about strategies to expand NDSU’s student body, but he also said reversing the school’s declining enrollment trend isn’t just about numbers.

“It’s not just about enrollment,” Cook said. “It’s about educating more students and changing more people’s lives.”

El-Rewini, who previously was a University of North Dakota engineering dean and vice provost, said NDSU faces a number of challenges amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. However, he sees the tough times that have impacted schools across the nation as a call to action.

“Surviving is not the goal,” he said. “Thriving is the goal.”

NDSU needs to change how it helps people succeed, and it has to look at the needs of its clients, Holz-Clause said. It should celebrate its success loudly, she added.

“Let it be known with these aggressive strategies that NDSU is the force in the region, the growing force in the region,” she said.

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The finalists have a broad range of experiences and have held high-level leadership positions, Greg Lardy, NDSU's vice president for agricultural affairs who co-chaired the search committee with Higher Education Board Vice Chair Jill Louters, said in a statement.

"I am confident that the future of NDSU will be in good hands with these finalists,” he said.

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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