On Sunday, Joshua Wynne officially becomes interim president of UND.
It's unknown how long Wynne will remain in the position, but it’s likely he will be faced with at least a few difficult decisions over the next several months.
"It's an absolute blur," Ed Schafer, UND's last interim president, said during his final days on the job in 2016. "It's like two years of work jammed into six months."
Schafer, a former North Dakota governor, was UND's interim president from January through June 2016. During that time, he dealt with expansive budget cuts and controversy regarding the school's Fighting Hawks nickname and logo. When he left the position, he told the Herald that his goal had been to "have a new university for the new president."
Schafer held the job before Mark Kennedy began his tenure at the university. Kennedy has left UND to take a job as president of the University of Colorado system and Wynne now takes over as the university's interim leader.
Schafer said Wynne likely is best known as the dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. But since Wynne also is vice president of health affairs at the university, he has been one of the president’s top advisers on campus. Wynne has been in that position since Robert Kelley was president and also advised Schafer during his interim tenure.
“So, I’m not sure if I’m in a position to give him advice,” Schafer said with a laugh earlier this week.
Schafer said it’s important for Wynne to remember that the university is there for the students.
“The administration gets all wrapped up in the budget and the faculty and the administrators, but in the end, you have to keep in mind that it’s all about the students,” Schafer said. “I think he has a good sense of that from the med school, but as the interim president, you have to translate that out to the whole university. I think he will.”
As interim president, Wynne will have the ability to make a lot of changes to the university and leave his stamp on the campus. While Schafer isn’t too concerned about Wynne coming in and making sweeping changes at UND, he said it's important for people in these types of positions to understand the inherent strength of the university.
“It’s more important to let the goodness of the university unfold and incorporate it into action, rather than saying ‘Oh, I’m going to put my name on this or change that,’” Schafer said. “The university has some momentum; it’s going the right direction. The learning experience has been great, so let’s just keep that going.”
The Herald this week reached out to various community and state leaders and asked them to give Wynne one piece of advice to be a successful interim president.
Birgit Pruess, faculty representative on the State Board of Higher Education, had a single word of advice for Wynne: Listen.
“Not just to the people on the outside of the university, but also to the people inside,” she said. “The faculty are hurting and there is some relationship mending that needs to be done, trust that needs to be regained.”
Pruess said it’s important that Wynne listen to faculty and staff concerns and take into account their thoughts.
Steve Burian, co-chair of the Valley Prosperity Project and former CEO of the engineering firm AE2S, said he believes it is important for Wynne to continue to push the One UND strategic plan. Wynne also should be aware of the internal culture of UND, Burian said, adding he hopes Wynne will be able to help the campus become more upbeat.
“I understand that the attitude isn’t very good over at UND internally and so I think it would be good if he could use this time to be sensitive to what some of the pinch points are with the university,” Burian said.
"Anything Josh can do to work his magic in terms of helping to raise the profile and respect of higher education within” the Legislature would also be important, according to Burian.
Rep. Jake Blum, R-Grand Forks, represents the university district in the North Dakota House of Representatives. Blum said Wynne is “a highly respected individual” and “a consummate professional,” adding he is pleased Wynne has been selected as interim.
“I would just advise him to be as transparent as possible, effectively communicating how he plans to sustain the university’s growth and development in this temporary period,” Blum said in an emailed response to the Herald's question. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he will do so.”