While UND Interim President Joshua Wynne hasn’t had a direct conversation with UND donor Kris Engelstad McGarry, the university is in the process of negotiating a new usage agreement between it and the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“I discussed whether I should do so now or maybe perhaps in a little bit, and my decision for now is in a little bit,” Wynne said after being asked if he has reached out to McGarry.
McGarry had a tenuous relationship with former UND President Mark Kennedy. Last year during a Herald editorial board meeting, McGarry claimed her relationship with Kennedy was “hostile.” Earlier this year, McGarry told the Herald she would not be giving any direct funds to the university while Kennedy was president.
“Frankly, the governance and the leadership isn’t there, so our confidence is less than it should be,” she told the Herald this winter.
The Engelstad Foundation supports the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the hockey program and student scholarships at UND, programs that McGarry said the foundation will continue to support.
McGarry was not available to speak to the Herald on Tuesday.
Wynne, who is also vice president of health affairs and dean at the UND medical school, said the university is now negotiating a new usage agreement with the Ralph Engelstad Arena. In June 2018, the university and the Ralph reached a new usage agreement through June 30, 2020. The usage agreement differs from the 30-year lease agreement between the university and the Ralph. The usage agreement deals with the operations and use of the building.
The agreement reached last year includes some minor administrative and operational changes, but the material terms and conditions were similar to those in the prior agreement.
Under that agreement, REA continues to manage all ticket revenue from UND athletic events on behalf of UND, as it has previously. Ticket revenues are split between REA and UND, with REA retaining 52 percent of ticket revenues, while UND will retain 48 percent.
The revenue retained by REA from ticket sales and sponsorship sales is the money that REA receives from UND in exchange for the access, services and labor the Ralph provides to UND each year.
At the end of each year, REA funds a capital reserve fund for extraordinary repairs, maintenance and building enhancements as well as an operating reserve fund to cover unanticipated operating expenses. It then allocates the balance of its annual net income to UND athletics.
Wynne would not comment on the specifics of the new agreement, as it’s still in negotiation, but he said the university is “working hard on an agreement that both the Engelstad operation and the university are very comfortable with.”
“I think we’re going to have a good resolution on that but I would rather wait until that’s done to not complicate matters,” he said.
Wynne said he expects the new agreement to be done while he is president.
Just weeks after becoming president, Wynne put a pause on the UND Memorial Union project. It was a decision Wynne said he came to after becoming president.
“It became clear to me based on feedback from several different sources, that there were questions about it,” Wynne said, noting that the questions and concerns came from people both on and off campus. “It became clear once I assumed the interim presidency that there were more issues. … When the chancellor discussed with me the option of pausing, I thought that was very reasonable.”
Wynne said the pause allowed him to learn more about the project He said he found concerns about the student debt on the project and the building’s “fit and finish” were legitimate. He then asked his team to work with him on ways the university could address both issues.
The final decision included lowering the student debt on the project by 55% and the university will now also contribute $250,000 a year toward the project’s bond.
The university is considering changes to the fit and finishes of the building in order to make sure the building is appropriate, Wynne said. The potential changes could reduce the cost further, he said.
“I was satisfied that a robust effort was being made to look at those issues,” he said. “With the student cost issue improved and the specifics of the building being addressed, I then felt comfortable to go back to the State Board of Higher Education that they approve the funding of the building and the razing of the old building.”
During the meeting with the editorial board, Wynne was asked if he will reconsider any other decisions made by past presidents, including the ending of the history doctorate and music therapy programs.
He said neither item has officially been brought to his attention.
The decision to end the UND women’s hockey program also has not been brought up to him directly as of Thursday morning.
“I’m on the learning curve,” Wynne said.
Wynne said while he enjoys being interim president, he currently isn’t interested in taking the position on full time.
“I wanted to do it on an interim basis and one of the main reasons is I really, really like my full-time job,” he said. “At this point my inclination has not changed but I am having a good time, so I don’t know. But at this point, no, the intention is to do what I said and to go back to being vice president (of health affairs).”