Kris Engelstad McGarry is at it again, holding a gun to the heads of North Dakota higher education leaders and citizens. (“Engelstad family vows no funds until UND president is removed,” The Forum, March 2)
This time, the Engelstad family wants University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy gone. McGarry refused to utter the word “fired,” but she didn’t have to.
It’s far from the first time for the late UND alumnus Ralph Engelstad and his heirs.
The gun-to-our-heads threats started, at least publicly, with a letter to UND President Charles Kupchella in December 2000. In it Engelstad said if the Sioux name and logo were not retained, he would halt work on the half-completed Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“Please do not consider this letter a threat in any manner, as it is not intended to be,” he wrote.
Really? A threat it was, and a strong one at that.
But life went on, and here we are, 18-odd years later.
There we rumblings of Engelstad disapproval along the way, some real flare-ups, too. One came in 2009 when the State Board of Higher Education accelerated a timeline for tribes to indicate approval or disapproval of the Sioux nickname.
“A sad day for North Dakota,” McGarry said.
But the family continued to give UND money, anyway, even after the nickname was replaced with Fighting Hawks.
Now North Dakotans find ourselves with an Engelstad-brandished gun to our temples. Again.
McGarry doesn’t like who Kennedy promoted, says he’s “alienated donors” (unnamed, of course) and – aghast! – received a positive performance review.
Let’s step back a moment to remember there are outstanding reasons for supporting universities. Ego boosts and tax advantages aside, they’re mostly altruistic, like advancing knowledge, giving students a hand up and plain old love of alma mater.
“Control” is not on the list.
It would be naïve to suggest people who give gobs of money don’t hold sway; stipulations to gifts and dangling carrots of more to come secure it. But donations do not – or at least should not – make donors kingmakers.
No, Ma’am, that level of control you do not get.
This is not a defense of Kennedy or his actions; the Engelstads’ frustration might be entirely justified. However, being frustrated is one thing; demanding that North Dakota get rid of a university president is something else entirely.
Here’s what university system and state leaders should say:
You don’t like who’s running UND? Sorry you feel that way, but too bad. You don’t like who he’s promoting? Bummer. You don’t think he should receive a decent evaluation? Tough break.
You don’t like what’s happening at UND? Fine.
Give your money or just keep it. It’s your prerogative, either way.
Ours is to refuse to do something just because you’re holding that gun to our heads. Again.
The Engelstads have done a lot of good for UND. Here’s hoping they keep doing it. But the time has finally come for North Dakotans to tell McGarry and the family Engelstad: