Laurie Stenberg Nichols, candidate for UND president, says she has experience in dealing with budget cuts and lowered campus morale.
Nichols, interim president at Black Hills State University since July 2019, took questions from faculty members Monday morning. She is the fourth candidate to visit UND's campus this month.
Nichols was provost and executive vice president for academics at South Dakota State University from 2009 to 2015. From August 2008 to mid-June 2009, she served as interim president at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D.
Speaking to faculty Monday morning, Nichols said her biggest challenges came at the University of Wyoming. Nichols, who had arrived in Wyoming in May of 2016, said she was asked to cut about $42 million from the university’s budget in her first couple of months as president; all told, the cuts amounted to about $50 million and more than 300 faculty and staff.
“I really tried to push myself out there and be on campus as much as I could,” she told faculty. “I really felt like if people can see me and talk to me ... at least they could feel like, ‘OK, I’ve met our president. I know what she looks like.’ I just felt that it was critical to try and stabilize the campus.”
Following the budget cuts, Nichols helped lead a strategic planning process, which she believes gave some stability to the campus.
Another challenge came at the end of her time in Wyoming. Wyoming’s Board of Trustees, equivalent to North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education, chose not to renew Nichols' contract, a move that caught the entire campus – and even Nichols – by surprise.
Little information has been made available publicly about the split, but the Casper Star Tribune reported in September that an apparent quiet investigation was being conducted regarding Nichols. The decision not to renew her contract was announced in March.
The Casper Star Tribune reported that the Board of Trustees has refused to comment on the subject. Nichols told the Herald Monday that she was not aware at the time of the alleged investigation and was not given an explanation.
“I was surprised,” she told the Herald. “We had negotiated my contract and it was all ready to sign and so it was directly opposite of what I thought they were going to do. There really were no signs leading up to it that they were going to do that.”
News media outlets in Wyoming have filed a lawsuit against the university trustees over records related to the non-renewal. In October, a lawyer for Nichols filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit between the entities, asking for counsel to be able to review the records before any potential public release, the WyoFile reported.
Nichols encouraged people to read about her situation online and learn more.
During a Herald interview, Nichols said she wants to be the next president of UND because of UND’s reputation as a public flagship school.
Nichols meets with students, staff and community members Tuesday. The next candidate, Paul Tikalsky, also will be on campus. Their schedules are:
Staff forum: 9 to 10:15 a.m. Room 7, Education Building
Student forum: noon to 1:15 p.m. 114 Witmer Hall
Campus and community forum: 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Discovery Room, EERC.
- Faculty forum: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. Gorecki Alumni Center