The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education has named co-chairmen of what will be a reduced-sized search committee to replace outgoing UND President Mark Kennedy.
Casey Ryan, a Grand Forks doctor and board member, and Denny Elbert, a finalist for the interim president’s job, will head the group tasked with replacing Kennedy. Joshua Wynne, dean of UND's medical school, was named interim president Thursday morning. Wynne and Elbert each had agreed to be co-chairmen of the search committee if they did not receive the interim job.
Elbert, who has two degrees from UND, was the dean of the UND business school from 1997 to 2014. He also was a faculty member before and after being dean. He retired in 2017 and is now a board member for the United Way of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Area.
“UND has been such a terrific part of my career and I think it’s really important that we spend the time and the energy (to name the right person to the presidency),” Elbert said, adding it is an important time for UND.
However, it appears the search will be condensed in both time and in the size of the committee.
Nick Hacker, State Board of Higher Education vice chairman, made a motion during the meeting to limit the number of committee members to 11. The motion also will allow the search committee to engage a recruiting firm. Limiting the number of committee members will be a deviation from board procedure, Hacker said, but is meant to streamline the process.
The committee will still seek input from faculty, staff and students, he said.
“I think it will help chart a course forward for us to have an efficient search and one that would be in the best interest of the University of North Dakota for the long-term,” Hacker said.
Hacker, selected Thursday to be the SBHE's next chairman, said the board could complete its search for a new UND president in less than a year.
"I think the intent was not to be reviewing 70 or 80 candidates, but to really recruit those 10 to 15 candidates that really fit well for North Dakota," Hacker said during a meeting break.
Birgit Pruess, the faculty representative on the board, said she agreed the board had two “wonderful” candidates for interim president, but notes the North Dakota University System has 11 male presidents. Going forward, she would like to see an effort to include women, including on the search committee.
Pruess, a faculty member at North Dakota State, also would like the faculty voice to be heard in the search.
“I think it’s outrageously important that faculty are involved and, of course staff, too,” she said. “Please, as you put the committee together, keep that under consideration.”
Ryan said there are issues in the Grand Forks community and within the university that will need be discussed during the search process. The committee will consider candidates’ relationships with UND and the state as a whole.
In response, Birgit Pruess, the faculty representative on the board, said the committee also should consider a candidate who can build, and rebuild, relationships with those on-campus, too.
“Morale is low on campus and I think there is a lot of room to grow," Pruess said.
Board member Dan Traynor said he hopes the committee’s process is “expedited” and that the group accomplishes its work in a timely manner.
“I think that the University of North Dakota needs a permanent president as soon as reasonably possible,” he said.
Traynor said the board and chancellor should begin to consider presidential succession plans and how vacancies are filled in the future to reduce costs to the taxpayer. Succession plans could reduce the number of out-of-state search firms being used to find a presidential candidate, he said.
Board chairman Don Morton said ultimately, the board wants to find the right person for the job as soon as possible, noting, however, that the search will take some time.