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Aerospace faculty apprehensive about dean's impending retirement

Dean Bruce Smith1 / 2
Tom DiLorenzo2 / 2

Kenneth Foltz approached the microphone confidently in a packed lecture bowl at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences Thursday.

"We just wanted to make sure the administration sees that we are such a diverse and unique operation that we've got to keep reality in the picture" he said.

The assistant aviation professor was one of many employees to speak up at a forum with Provost Thomas DiLorenzo concerning the impending retirement of longtime Dean Bruce Smith and the process of finding his replacement.

Associate aviation professor Benjamin Trapnell said while it had improved since he began working there in the 1980s, he saw animosity between UND administrators and the aerospace school.

DiLorenzo denied any kind of friction.

"I hope Bruce would say that I've been a champion of the school," DiLorenzo said. "We want to continue to build these interdisciplinary teams and relationships, so we're just going to continue promoting that and working in ways that bring people together all across campus."

Smith has served as dean for about 15 years and will retire June 30, 2016.

"The main reason is that over the last 15 years, for some strange reason I got 15 years older, and it's time to step back," he said to the forum audience of about 100 people.

Smith also said he announced his intent to retire so early because he wanted to give the university ample time to pick his successor. He told the Herald earlier this month he would consider staying at the school past his retirement date if a suitable replacement isn't found.

Wanting a voice

Many in the audience said the aerospace school is "like a family" and because of that, needs a dean who communicates well while having experience as a pilot, businessman and educational leader.

DiLorenzo will appoint a search committee that will vet and narrow down a list of candidates.He will ultimately choose the new hire from that list. A consulting firm will help recruit candidates and those from within the university can also apply.

Many in the crowd were concerned about the makeup of the search committee, though DiLorenzo assured the audience he would be inclusive.

"We need the right mix, and I'm not sure what that is," he said.

Employees at the forum had a variety of suggestions for the committee makeup such as including all aerospace department chairs or Diane Odegard, as her deceased husband is the school's namesake.

On top of that, about six people from within the aerospace school have already offered to serve on the committee.

DiLorenzo said he had also received notes from both individuals and groups urging him to be inclusive and transparent in the coming year. He assured faculty and staff that they, along with industry experts and students, would have the opportunity to have a say in the hiring process.

"I wanted to hear your feedback," he said to the audience. "I want to understand where you're coming from."

At the forum, DiLorenzo also praised Smith for all he had accomplished during his time at the school.

Since Smith was hired, the aerospace program has grown from offering three undergraduate degrees and one master's to having five programs students can earn doctorate degrees in. A new facility costing more than $20 million is also in the process of being built.

Moving forward, DiLorenzo plans to meet with individual departments within the aerospace school and continue to gather their input.

The search committee will be appointed in the "near future," DiLorenzo 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.