BISMARCK — North Dakota's higher education board selected UND's medical school dean to serve as the institution's interim president Thursday, May 30.
Joshua Wynne will succeed Mark Kennedy, who was picked as the next president of the University of Colorado system earlier this month. Kennedy's last official day at the helm of UND will be June 15.
The State Board of Higher Education unanimously voted for Wynne during a meeting at Bismarck State College and authorized Chancellor Mark Hagerott to negotiate contract terms.
Wynne has been dean of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences since 2010. Before becoming permanent dean, Wynne served as interim dean beginning in early 2009.
Wynne did not attend Thursday's meeting. But in a phone interview, he said he was not interested in serving as president on a permanent basis and accepted the interim role with the understanding that he would retain his current responsibilities and return to the medical school once a new president is named.
Wynne credited Kennedy for creating "positive momentum" at the university, which is one of two research institutions in the state. The University of North Dakota's current official enrollment is 13,847, a spokesman said.
"I think the university is moving in a great direction," Wynne said.
Wynne said he'll ask his senior leadership team at the medical school and university vice presidents to step up while cutting back on his clinical work to keep on top of his new duties. He works as a cardiologist for the Altru and Sanford health systems through the university.
Wynne is a 1971 graduate of Boston University and later earned his medical degree there. In addition, he holds a master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago and a master of public health from the University of Michigan. He came to UND in 2004 as vice dean, a position he held until becoming interim dean.
Wynne makes around $690,000 a year in his position, according to state records.
Hagerott recommended Wynne over Dennis Elbert, the former longtime business school dean at UND, though he lauded both finalists as capable leaders. He said neither lobbied to serve in the interim role.
"They're both outstanding candidates," State Board of Higher Education Chairman Don Morton said.
The board also named Elbert and Casey Ryan, a state board member and Grand Forks doctor, as co-chairmen for the UND presidential search committee. Board Vice Chairman Nick Hacker, who was selected Thursday to be its next chairman, said the search could be completed in less than a year.
Grand Forks Republican Sen. Ray Holmberg, who chairs his chamber's powerful budget-writing committee, said Wynne is well-respected in the Legislature.
“Clearly with the lawmakers and decision makers in Bismarck, he is a rock star,” Holmberg said.
During his time as dean of the med school, Wynne started the campaign for a new, four-year medical school building. The project, which was not originally well-received and ultimately cost $124 million, was finished on-time and under budget, Holmberg said. Those type of projects make legislators say things like, “that’s the type of person we want leading,” Holmberg added
Holmberg said he isn’t concerned about Wynne holding too many duties during his interim presidency.
“My experience with him is if he says he can do something he can do it,” he said.
Eric Murphy, a faculty member who works in the UND medical school and was on the board when Kennedy was appointed president in 2016, said it may be a challenge for the dean of the medical school to engage with the rest of campus, noting it will require a high level of engagement from Wynne in order to succeed.
“I hope he’s up for that challenge and he’s fully engaged and ready to go,” Murphy said. “It’s going to be an awful lot of work for him, but we’ll have to see.”
Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said in a statement that Wynne's "well-earned reputation as a thoughtful, collaborative and proactive leader will serve UND, the community and the entire state well during this tenure."
Several names had been rumored for the university's top post, including presidents at smaller institutions in the state. Former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp told KFGO she would be open to taking the job, but she declined to say Wednesday whether she would have accepted a job as interim president at the university. She said she had not been in contact with state board members about the topic.
Kennedy, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, stumbled out of North Dakota, where he alienated a major benefactor and attempted to allow his chief of staff to work from Texas. The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the state's largest newspaper, called him a "disaster" for the university, though on Thursday he touted efforts to increase graduation rates and address deferred maintenance.
Kennedy will oversee more than 67,000 students and four campuses in Colorado after regents there selected him in a narrow 5-4 vote, giving him a major pay raise from his job in North Dakota. He stressed "unity" upon his selection to the post.
During a break in the board meeting Thursday, Kennedy praised Wynne as a "great" pick who will provide some continuity until a successor comes aboard. He hit an optimistic note for the future of the university.
"If you go between Minneapolis and Seattle, there's no reason that the University of North Dakota can't increasingly stand out as the leader in so many fields," Kennedy said.