It’s been a busy few weeks for UND Interim President Joshua Wynne as he settles in to a new job, a new office and a new home. But for a fleeting moment, Wynne almost didn't take the position.
Wynne told the Herald Thursday he originally was going to decline if the State Board of Higher Education offered the job. But after talking to his wife, Susan, and after many people, both on and off campus, encouraged him, he reconsidered.
“Initially, I was going to say no,” Wynne said. “I think we have some very good momentum at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. I didn’t want to jeopardize that by any instability in leadership, so I was planning to say no.”
He ultimately decided to take the job because of positive feedback. He also wanted to make sure the university was in a stable spot moving forward.
Since becoming interim president, Wynne said he has heard the words “thank you” again and again.
“It’s very gratifying to hear that the community, both on campus and off campus, feels that I actually was the right choice in this situation,” he said.
The Wynnes are now in the process of getting settled at the UND president’s residence. The two plan to stay in the home for the first time this week. In between moving and traveling, Wynne has also been busy balancing his work as dean of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences with his new responsibilities.
Wynne met with the Herald editorial board for an hour on Thursday morning to discuss an array of topics, including how he has transitioned to the new title, as well as how he has addressed campus morale, among many more.
“I’m learning a lot,” Wynne said, noting that while he has been in higher education for his entire career, most of his experience has come with the medical school. Now he is learning in greater depth about issues that affect the rest of the campus, Wynne said.
Wynne has been on the job since June 16, taking over for former UND President Mark Kennedy, who is now the president of the University of Colorado system.
Wynne acknowledged campus morale has been low in recent times, adding there have been legitimate issues, both financial and other, brought up throughout the campus community.
The university already is taking steps to address some of the financial issues that have arisen. During the latest legislative session, lawmakers voted a minimum pay increase for North Dakota University System employees. However, in addition to those increases provided to state-appropriated employees, UND also has crafted a merit pool to provide additional pay increases.
To address other concerns, Wynne said he wants there to be more discussion about decisions before they are made and wants to include all types of people with all viewpoints in those talks.
“I like debate; that’s what universities are about,” he said. “We debate things to try to discover truth. That’s what’s supposed to go on on this campus. I don’t run from negative comments. I run toward them because that’s what a university specializes in -- critical thinking and considering the options. If we don't hear from and consider the comments of people who may have thoughts that differ, we’re not doing our job.”
Wynne said it is important for those involved in the university to have real discussions to come to difficult decisions.
“One of the important things about being interim president is that 'interim' just refers to the amount of time that I may be doing it,” he said. “I intend to act as president. I am the president of the University of North Dakota. I need to put my approach into play. That’s presumably why the State Board of Higher Education offered me the position and I want to make sure that moving forward we do things in an open and collaborative way.”