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OUR OPINION: Kelley's legacy: A fresh-faced UND

Our Opinion

There'll be time enough in days to come to consider the survey of UND faculty that offered very harsh judgments about UND President Robert Kelley.

That survey is big news in Grand Forks and around the state. Herald readers will find reports about it in today's paper.

And, in fact, it'll be essential to consider the survey—especially for the North Dakota University System's board and interim chancellor, who should closely review the survey's findings as they discuss what's next for UND.

But for today's purposes, let's focus on the other big story on today's front page: Kelley's announcement that he intends to retire Jan. 1.

Are the stories connected? Kelley says they aren't, but we suspect they are. Kelley has been eligible for retirement for some years now. It's hard to believe it's just a coincidence that he announced on the same day that a faculty survey publicly delivered the sting of something like a "no confidence" vote.

Again, though, let's put the survey aside for today. And let's consider that love him or hate him, Kelley is a figure who'll loom large in the university's history, because his presidency is one that has changed—and is changing—the face of UND.

That's true in a number of key ways.

First, there's the matter of the nickname and logo—in the case of Ben Brien's famous Fighting Sioux logo, the face of UND athletics.

UND's change to a new nickname and logo isn't yet complete. But it will be before many more months are out.

And when the new name and design finally are unveiled, Kelley will be there, as he'll be the author who'll get both the credit and the blame for this very significant chapter in the story of UND.

Then there's the physical face of UND: the university's facilities and grounds. Here, Kelley's record is a lot less ambiguous, in that his legacy involves a lot more credit and a lot less blame.

A new, $124 million home for the UND medical school; an $11.4 million renovation of the UND law school; the $18 million athletic high performance center—these and other ambitious projects mean UND students in 2016 will study on a very different and much improved campus than their counterparts did in 2008, when Kelley arrived.

The university's financial face has been much altered as well. To a great degree, a modern university's strength can be gleaned from the strength of its endowment; and UND's endowment is hundreds of millions of dollars richer than it was when Kelley got here.

The "North Dakota Spirit" fundraiser that he and the UND Alumni Association and Foundation spearheaded raised $324 million. That made it the largest capital campaign in the history of North Dakota; 'nuff said.

Understand, Kelley's presidency also hit some very rough patches, the new faculty survey very much being one. But here's a key: UND's problems are solvable. Whoever the next president is, he or she will inherit a university with serious transparency, faculty morale, administrative and other issues, but also one that boasts solid infrastructure, strong public and legislative support, ferociously loyal alumni and respected programs that annually bestow thousands of valued degrees.

That's a challenge any new president would relish taking on. And it's a situation Kelley can take pride in leaving behind.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

More on UND President Robert Kelley's retirement:

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