NDSU welcomes David Cook, the university's 15th president
David Cook had his first day on the job at NDSU after the departure of Dean Bresciani.
FARGO — David Cook spent his first full day as North Dakota State University’s 15th president meeting and talking with administrative staff and taking questions from the news media.
Cook gathered with reporters outside the Old Main administration building on campus on Tuesday, May 17, and said he was excited to have received text messages from both Gov. Doug Burgum and University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost on his first day.
“That’s pretty cool that the governor cares about higher ed, cares about NDSU. I'm pretty sure he said ‘Go Bison’ in there,” Cook said.
Cook said he’s already spoken several times with Armacost about ideas for collaboration.
“Whether that's academic programs, whether that's research … how we work together across the state, how we work together with the Legislature, there's going to be great opportunity there,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Cook met with his cabinet, including Provost Margaret Fitzgerald and vice presidents.
“It's been a fun, overwhelming first day,” he said.
The State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to hire Cook in February from a list of three finalists for the job.
He comes to Fargo after serving as vice chancellor for public affairs and economic development at the University of Kansas.
Cook takes over for Dean Bresciani, who wrapped up 12 years as president Monday but will remain at NDSU as a tenured professor of human sciences and education.
Bresciani’s contract was not renewed in 2021 after criticism over hiring practices, a gap in the university’s research status and declining enrollment.
Regarding the school’s 15-year-low enrollment, Cook said it’s “not overly concerning” but is a real issue affecting schools nationwide.
He pointed to the positives of a growing freshman class and increasing graduation rates.
Future goals could include increased retention, increased progression, working better to accommodate transfer students and nontraditional students, he said.
Academic programs may need to be examined to see how they align with the state’s workforce needs, he added.
Fitzgerald has put together a number of working groups that are looking at those issues, he said.
Cook said he hoped to bring from the University of Kansas a program called “Degree in Three,” that connected K-12 schools with a local community college and the university.
Asked whether offering in-state tuition to out-of-state students might help enrollment, Cook said everything’s on the table but more work needs to be done before that idea would rise to the top.
“There's a math problem under that, that's tricky,” he said.
In December 2018, a request by NDSU to give all university presidents flexibility to allow in-state tuition for out-of-state students was rejected by the Higher Ed Board.
The discussion was a direct response to a South Dakota Board of Regents’ decision to offer in-state tuition to students from six neighboring states.
Bresciani advocated for the proposal at the time, saying South Dakota’s decision would have an immediate negative impact on enrollment numbers in North Dakota.
Asked about the future of online vs. on-campus learning, Cook said both are needed.
Online education can offer access to students who might not otherwise have it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “silver bullet,” he said.
As for whether NDSU Bison football should move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS, Cook said he’s been talking about it with Athletic Director Matt Larsen, but it’s too soon to say.
“I've got a lot more to learn in that space,” he said.
Cook said he’ll soon crisscross the state for two straight weeks, finding out what people are looking for in a new NDSU president. He also plans to meet with every unit on campus as quickly as possible.
His wife, Katie Cook, will likely join him in the president’s home on campus permanently in August, after selling their home in Kansas where several of their college-age children still live.
Cook said he’s gotten to know Bresciani pretty well during the transition and is grateful for the insight he’s provided.
“I'm not going to fill those shoes, but I'm going to try my best to love and have that deep passion that he has for this place,” Cook said.