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UPDATE: Schafer to serve as interim president at UND

Former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer announces the "Fix the Tax" campaign to lower during a Monday morning press conference in Fargo to lobby for lower oil production taxes. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 3
State Board of Higher Education faculty adviser Eric Murphy explains to University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott the opposition from University of North Dakota faculty members to the two candidates for UND interim president on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, at the Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service2 / 3
State Board of Higher Education faculty adviser Eric Murphy explains to University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott the opposition from University of North Dakota faculty members to the two candidates for UND interim president on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, at the Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. Photo by Mike Nowatzki / Forum News Service3 / 3

Ed Schafer can add one more title to his already long list of accomplishments.

The former North Dakota governor and former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will now serve as UND's interim president.

Schafer will replace President Robert Kelley when he retires on Jan. 14. Kelley led the school for nearly eight years and a search is underway for his successor. The North Dakota University System hopes to fill that position this coming summer.

But Schafer said he doesn't intend to apply.

"Personally, I've appointed many, many interims throughout the years in many different positions, and I don't think you can be a proper interim if it's a stepping stone to try to get the job because it's like being a legislator trying to get re-elected," he said. "You're making decisions based on something in the future but not the project at hand. I just don't think that's a good idea."

Schafer was appointed by the State Board of Higher Education at a meeting Tuesday upon a recommendation from NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott, who included UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo as his second choice.

Eric Murphy, a SBHE faculty adviser and UND associate professor, said faculty told him they didn't support either candidate and were upset Bruce Smith, the outgoing dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences or Dennis Elbert, the former dean of the College of Business and Public Administration, weren't included as options.

Hagerott explained the two serve in important roles on campus, and he wanted to keep them in those roles—Smith is a pivotal part of the school's unmanned aerial systems program and Elbert is a faculty member.

"The base of my decision was, quite frankly, what is best for UND and for North Dakota," Hagerott said.

Hagerott said DiLorenzo was willing to serve under Schafer. DiLorenzo was hired in 2013 and has seen controversy him during his time at UND, including being the subject of a Student Senate vote of no-confidence along with several other administrators that was eventually tabled. He also received poor marks for transparency in a recent faculty survey.

"I think it would be unfair to ask the provost to move into the position because he'd move into a position where it'd be difficult to lead," Murphy said.

In an email to the UND community, DiLorenzo welcomed Schafer as the school's future interim president.

"We believe that we are on the threshold of great progress here at UND, and we look forward to continuing that progress with such an accomplished leader who is a UND alum, a staunch supporter of the university, a UND honorary degree winner, and a UND Alumni Association and Foundation Sioux Award winner," he wrote

DiLorenzo did not return Herald requests for an interview Tuesday.

Murphy said faculty had concerns about Schafer's lack of experience in higher education, but Hagerott said his recommendation was based on the idea of letting existing administrators continue to do what they're good at while the interim president sets the stage for the permanent president.

Schafer said his first priority will be getting to know the university community and figure out the root of morale issues on campus, knowing that being a good listener will be an important element in that process.

"Looking from afar, there seems to be a fracturing of the relationship between students and the administration," he said. "I'm a student guy. I want to get that back in shape real quick."

The board appointed Schafer unanimously, and Hagerott will negotiate the terms of his contract.

Stormy seas

With a nickname change on the horizon this month, a $5 million budget shortfall and faculty and staff who have said in open meetings there is a campus climate problem, SBHE members spoke at length about what the interim president should accomplish at UND.

"I just want to make sure we understand what we're asking this person to do and it's the right person to do it," board member Kari Reichert said.

Schafer said when he was originally approached about the possibility of serving as UND's interim president, he said no because he's very busy—he serves on corporate boards, is chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, is involved in two startup companies in the state and has 13 grandchildren.

Schafer is also a UND alumnus, earning a bachelor's degree there before receiving a master's degree from the University of Denver. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in 2008 from his alma mater, and UND released a statement via email stating the school looks forward to working with an accomplished leader.

Schafer served as North Dakota's governor from 1992 to 2000 and as U.S. secretary of agriculture in 2008. Prior to tha,t he was an executive with the Gold Seal Co., which was founded by his father, Harold Schafer.

But Schafer doesn't refer to himself when he talks about taking on the role of interim president. Instead, he said "we're" anxious to get started and "we" can accomplish things at UND and pave the way for the next president.

"The university is a great university, the administration is good, the students are accomplished, the faculty is engaged," Schafer said. "Things are good, so yeah, I see it as a 'we' project. It's the university and the people of North Dakota. That's what it's all about."

Reaction

Grand Forks lawmakers reacted positively to the announcement Tuesday.

Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican, said Schafer brought a can-do attitude when he became governor, something that never went away as he was continuously on the scene of the 1997 flood.

"In many respects, he established a lot of the foundation for what you see today in terms of some of the operational things that go on in government," Sanford said.

Democratic Sen. Connie Triplett said she was "delighted" by the appointment, and Rep. Mark Owens, a Republican, said he thinks Schafer will be wonderful for the university.

"I don't know really what he can do between now and the time he'll be replaced, but if anybody can do anything, Ed would be one who could do it," Owens said.

Republican Sen. Ray Holmberg said he felt Schafer was the right choice.

"I'm under the impression that an interim president isn't going to make massive changes regarding personnel or other issues, but they're wrestling right now with a shortage of cash, and I think he's the right person to have to deal with that issue," he said.

Democratic Rep. Corey Mock said despite Schafer's political history, he hopes any bias would be put aside.

"While President Kelley will certainly be missed by many, the next chapter is before us, and I feel confident Schafer will carry us forward," he said.

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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