Fifteen candidates are moving on to the next phase of the search for UND’s new president.

At a five-hour meeting Wednesday, the UND Presidential Search Committee selected the applicants for in-person interviews from a list of 41.

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“This list really has the best people in the pool,” committee co-chairman Hesham El-Rewini said. “It was a strong pool, and these people are the strongest of the strong pool."

Committee members initially submitted a ranked list of candidates after reviewing their applications, and the bottom three were taken out of the running: Gurendra Nath Bhardwaj, Lawrence McCrank and Ronald Spriggs.

After voting unanimously to accept applications turned in after the deadline of Jan. 4, the committee discussed each candidate one by one, requiring a vote of support from nine of the 12 voting committee members for advancement.

Four applications were submitted after Jan. 4, and three of those applicants were approved for the interview round: Executive Vice President, Treasurer and CFO at Arizona State University Morgan Olsen; Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Western Michigan University Timothy Greene; and Georgetown University professor Allen Lee Sessoms.

Both committee co-chairmen and several committee members spoke at length in support of Olsen, a UND alumnus, who was nominated for the position and applied late because he mistakenly wasn’t told of the nomination.

“This would be an arguably, ‘alumni done good’ story coming out of UND,” committee co-chairman Grant Shaft said. “It’s hard to ignore that. He's a big deal."

Committee member Jim Poolman said he had coffee with him while in Arizona earlier in January and thinks Olsen is “absolutely in tune” to what’s happening at UND.

"He knows North Dakota,” Poolman said. “He knows the culture. I was excited when he decided to apply because I just think he's got a little bit of what we're looking for."

AGB Search, the consulting firm assisting in the search, now will seek permission to contact references for the 15 who are moving forward.

In-person interviews Feb. 1 and 2 will be at a hotel near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a decision made at an earlier meeting based on making air travel easier for candidates.

Shaft said AGB Search consultants hasn’t been told to stop working, and applications will continue to be accepted up to the date of the in-person interviews.

"We expect there may be additional nominees, and we know there are some folks they're working with and we want them to keep doing that,” Shaft said. “We don't want to leave any stone unturned as a committee, period."

The committee will be notified and given the opportunity to decide whether to consider forwarding future applicants.

“Accepting candidates up until Minnesota is not a reflection of our current pool and the satisfaction with that pool,” Poolman said. “I’m personally satisfied with the pool we have, but I think it’s important that pool is deep and diverse."

The committee must forward at least three candidates to the full State Board of Higher Education, which has final hiring authority for university presidents. Ed Schafer took office as UND’s interim president Friday after Robert Kelley retired. Schafer’s contract states he will work through June 30, at which time the committee hopes the long-term president will be able to take office.


Early during the meeting, El-Rewini told committee members to disregard any controversial or negative news about candidates they might have seen in the media, explaining it would be addressed during the subsequent step of checking references and in-person interviews.

Ronald Ambrosetti and Gregg Lassen were both subjects of votes of no-confidence at their universities, though neither was forwarded by the search committee.

“Votes of no-confidence, as folks in higher ed know, can come from all sorts of different contexts," Shaft said.

Robert Kennedy and Sessoms both were approved by the committee though the Bangor (Maine) Daily News reported Kennedy resigned from his job as president of Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education amid controversy in 2012 involving improper pay increase authorization, and the TV news station WJLA reported Sessoms was fired in 2013 from his position as president of the University System of the District of Columbia.

Candidates were approved for the interview phase of the process for reasons that ranged from experience and accomplishments in higher education to having local ties.

Committee member Kathleen Neset said she liked former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy’s application, and he was endorsed despite committee member Leon Osborne saying he didn’t understand why Kennedy would want a university president position given all he had already done.

Shaft called Ray Purpur his “wild card” candidate. Purpur is a Grand Forks native who is currently the deputy director of athletics, physical education and recreation at Stanford University. He doesn’t hold a doctorate, and the committee discussed his lack of experience in faculty and student development at length before deciding to forward his application.

“We may not end up choosing him, but (the committee has) the opportunity to engage him on questions that he may have rock star answers for and a plan on how to relate to faculty or how to overcome academic credentials other candidates may have,” Poolman said. “He could be a hidden gem.”

Jay Noren was a finalist in the 1992 UND presidential search. Poolman said he was on that committee and gladly forwarded him for consideration for the second time.

“His interest in the University of North Dakota apparently has not waned,” Osborne said.

Boise State University Vice President for Research and Economic Development Mark Rudin made the cut after Osborne and Poolman talked about how it was clear he had diverse experience and was selected to be the face of his university. Florida Gulf Coast University’s College of Business Dean Robert Beatty was picked despite debate about why his resume shows he has moved frequently from job to job.

“I agree we should pay attention to job-hoppers, but I'm not really sure that’s what happened here,” committee member Nick Hacker said.

Committee members said Kody Varahramyan, senior aide to the chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, seemed to serve diverse students, have relationships with legislators and stay at institutions for long periods of time, so he was voted onward.

Robert Kennedy, the executive search consultant at AcademicKeys LLC, was one of several applicants selected because committee members had questions they wanted answered during an interview.

“I struggled with this one, although I liked the idea of having a President Robert Kennedy,” committee member Shari Nelson said, laughing.

Ronald Elsenbaumer, senior adviser to the president at the University of Texas, Arlington, was chosen for an interview after several committee members said they liked his wide breadth of experience in both higher education and the business world. Helena Wisniewski, vice provost for research and graduate studies and graduate school dean at the University of Alaska Anchorage, was moved forward because of her experience with issues affecting North Dakota and collaborative language in her cover letter.

“I liked the way she talked about doing things in a team,” committee member Linda Neuerburg said. “It wasn’t just ‘I, I, I, I, I.’ ”

Nagi Naganathan, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Toledo, was selected after El-Rewini, the dean of the UND College of Engineering and Mines, said he was “one the most respected engineering deans.”

Nonvoting committee member and Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen said the committee should expect some candidates to withdraw their applications throughout the process, a normal occurrence during searches like this one.

After interviews, the search committee plans to make a final recommendation to the State Board in March.

Still candidates

The committee chose the following applicants to be interviewed in February:

  • Mark Rudin, vice president for research and economic development at Boise State University

  • Robert Beatty, dean of the College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University

  • Rodney Hanley, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fisk University

  • Kody Varahramyan, senior aide to the chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

  • Robert Kennedy, executive search consultant at AcademicKeys LLC

  • Ronald Elsenbaumer, senior adviser to president at the University of Texas, Arlington

  • Jay Noren, associate dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago

  • Helena Wisniewski, vice provost for research and graduate studies and graduate school dean at the University of Alaska Anchorage

  • Ray Purpur, deputy director of athletics, physical education and recreation at Stanford University

  • Mark Kennedy, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and former congressman from Minnesota

  • Nagi Naganathan, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Toledo

  • Daniel Clay, dean of the College of Education at the University of Missouri

  • Timothy Greene, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Western Michigan University

  • Allen Lee Sessoms, professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

  • Morgan Olsen, executive vice president, treasurer and CFO at Arizona State University