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Kolpack: Here is your two-minute warning on the next NDSU president

They are five names left in the running to be the next president at North Dakota State, a job that entails multitasking on a daily basis at its best.

North Dakota State fans celebrate the win over Montana State in the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum
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FARGO—They are names with resumes on paper, that much we know. Or, in this day and age, resumes on a computer screen or a smartphone.

They are five names left in the running to be the next president at North Dakota State, a job that entails multitasking on a daily basis at its best. Yes, folks, that includes athletics.

Be careful. It’s not JUST athletics. It’s rather important; just ask the hotels, restaurants, bars and Topgolfs in the Frisco and Plano areas north of Dallas. Ask the Fargodome. Ask a lot of people.

When Thomas Plough was hired as the NDSU president in 1995, he came from Rochester Institute of Technology (N.Y.) and before that, Eisenhower College (N.Y.) and Alma College (Mich.). None of those schools had a football team. Eisenhower closed, although some of it was acquired by RIT.

It matters.


Football matters in Fargo-Moorhead and beyond. This decision matters.

Plough had his issues with athletics, although he also had to deal with a statewide higher education cut by then Gov. Ed Schafer, whose 95% budget directive necessitated cuts at all 11 public colleges and universities.

Plough had his issues with the concept of a Land Grant university, schools created with the concept of the common person in mind. It’s OK for an agricultural school to bring in a boatload of ag money to help fund the greater good of the university. But he was a private school guy, after all.

Here are NDSU’s five finalists and their current or most recent school:

  • David Cook, vice chancellor for public affairs and economic development, University of Kansas at Lawrence.
  • Hesham El-Rewini, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, Marymount University in the Washington, D.C., area. He was the dean of the College of Engineering and Mines at the University of North Dakota until 2019.
  • Mary Holz-Clause, acting executive chancellor, University of Minnesota’s dual campus at Crookston and Morris.
  • Debra Larson, provost and vice president of academic affairs, California State University at Chico.
  • Michael Tidwell, immediate past president of the University of Texas at Tyler.

This list matters. El-Rewini’s Marymount University, Larson’s Cal State Chico and Tidwell’s Texas at Tyler do not have football. Holz-Clause was the chancellor at UM Crookston when the school dropped football. Was it her fault? Most likely not, but still, she’s at a school system that dropped football.
Will the Bison football dynasty immediately die if a person from a non-football school gets hired? Certainly not. That’s not the point.

But it should get the attention of those who put their money behind Bison athletics. At least Cook is at a Big 12 Conference school, the same league that current NDSU president Dean Bresciani came from when he was at Texas A&M.

It matters that a president can navigate his or her way around the NCAA circles at the Division I level. It matters when they take a seat at a Summit League Presidents Council meeting. When Joe Chapman arrived at NDSU in the summer of 1999 from Division I Montana State, he knew what a Division I program looked like and it didn’t take him long to bring NDSU from Division II to Division I standards.

All of these five, I’m sure, will come in for their on-campus interviews and talk a good game on athletics. Praising the greatest football dynasty in NCAA history is easy. It would be nice, however, if there was some proof behind their words.


That construction project south of the externally funded $50 million Sanford Health Athletic Complex? It’s a $50 million externally funded indoor football practice facility. That’s $100 million, just on two projects. Did I mention they are externally funded?

I’ll never forget the time circa late 1995, early 1996 when I requested an interview with Plough in his office to get his general thoughts on athletics. It took like two months and it just wasn’t him in the office, either. He had women’s athletic director Lynn Dorn by his side to help with questions he didn’t know.

He couldn’t go mano a mano with a reporter on athletics.

This decision. It matters. This is your two-minute warning and it's not looking good for the home team.

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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