As UND prepares to enter a new era under Andrew Armacost’s leadership, leaders on campus and within the community say Armacost is poised to bring stability and a “calming influence” to the institution.
Armacost, selected as president by the State Board of Higher Education Tuesday, is slated to start on or before June 1. A press release from the university indicated Armacost would start as soon as possible.
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said although he hasn’t yet met Armacost, he believes the university will “be in good hands.”
“He’s worked with Congress,” Holmberg said. “He has certainly worked with the academic world. I think he has a very bright future.”
Holmberg said senators will be working with Armacost, as they do with all presidents, as the next legislative session rolls around.
“I think the community wants success,” he said. “We’ve had some rocky times. We want him to succeed and we will do everything we can to help him do so. I think that’s a community effort.”
Gracie Lian, student body president, said students are excited that Armacost was appointed. Lian said Armacost was engaging with students during his meeting with them in November; she said he listened and had a conversation with them.
When she talked with students on campus, Lian said students would often list Armacost as their top choice for president. Even if he wasn’t a student’s top choice, she never heard someone say they didn’t particularly want him to lead the university.
“Dr. Armacost has such an emphasis ... on community,” she said. “As he’s talked about our strategic plan, he thinks it's missing one thing, one extra goal out of the seven, and that would be community building. And I mean, that's the thing that we heard over and over again, from community members, from students, from faculty from staff, during the forums. (They wanted) somebody who connects with the community who can build morale. And I think that that seems to be a core part of how Dr. Armacost leads.”
Jeff VanLooy, chair of the UND University Senate, helped lead the six candidate faculty sessions in November. All the candidates, for the most part, spoke about leaders needing to be good listeners and having a vision, but VanLooy said Armacost’s sincerity is what really stood out.
“It was really just his sincerity for me at least that pushed him over the top,” he said. “I have absolutely no concerns at all about his character. I think he’s a fantastic person. I think he has a lot of integrity and honesty that he brings with this character. It’s something that UND really does need.”
VanLooy hopes Armacost will bring some stability to the UND campus that has had rocky times in recent years.
“Ultimately, you don't know what a new president is going to do until they actually get into the position. So, there's optimism, but there's a little bit of cautious optimism,” he said.
Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, said the three finalists – Armacost, Laurie Stenberg Nichols and David Rosowsky – were all “very capable” to lead UND.
“It wasn’t easy sorting it all out,” he said, noting Armacost is very well qualified for the position.
State Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, also has not had a chance to meet Armacost, but said from everything he has read and listened to, Armacost is a “great selection.”
“I certainly don’t know that we could have gone wrong with the three options that were forwarded, but Dr. Armacost is, I think, arguably the most intriguing selection of the three,” Mock said. “I think he’s going to be a great fit in Grand Forks and at the University of North Dakota.”
The Air Force Academy, where Armacost was the dean of the faculty, is a smaller institution than UND and does not have graduate programs or professional programs. Yet Armacost has experience in his position as the Academy’s chief academic officer.
VanLooy said that experience quells any concerns he might have about Armacost making that jump to president.
“There's always some concern about what is the learning curve that somebody is going to be having to go through, what kind of experiences they had in the past and how is that going to translate over into their job that they're going to be doing now,” he said.
Mock said Armacost’s military background and his experience in the U.S. Air Force can also benefit the university, as UND is no stranger to aeronautics and aerospace sciences with its aviation and unmanned aircraft systems programs.
Mock also pointed to Armacost’s experience with innovation, economic development and research at the Colorado Innovative Network, otherwise known as COIN, as a potential plus for North Dakota.
“He looks to be a great fit for our culture, our environment,” Mock said. “He's going to bring some innovation and changes that will be needed and appreciated in Grand Forks for years to come.”
UND interim President Joshua Wynne commended the State Board of Higher Education and the search committee for their efforts in selecting the next UND president.
“The selection of Dr. Armacost was the result of a fair process that took great and appropriate lengths to solicit perspectives from our varied stakeholder groups on and off campus,” he said in a written statement to the Herald. “It has been a great honor for me to serve as UND interim president for the past six months, and I look forward to continuing that work for however long I am asked to do so.”
Wynne said he and his wife, Susan, look forward to welcoming Armacost and his wife, Kathy, to Grand Forks in the near future.
“It is truly an exciting time to be moving forward and striving for excellence at UND,” Wynne said.
Holmberg said Wynne has been a good “buffer” for the university since the departure of former President Mark Kennedy earlier this year.
“He was a calming influence,” he said. “He was a decider, he made decisions and he’s going to continue that for the next (several) months.”
Armacost’s contract, which runs from June 1, 2020, to June 30, 2023, is the first contract approved under the new, long-form version of the document. Previous presidents’ contracts were one page long and listed the president’s term, their salary and then referred to SBHE and NDUS policies. Armacost’s contract is six pages and lays out terms for early resignation, among other aspects.
Armacost’s base salary is $369,800 for the first year of his three-year contract. Compensation for the successive contract years will be set by the SBHE as funds are available, the contract states.
The contract also includes $10,000 in relocation expenses.
If Armacost were to resign before the end of his contract, some fees may apply. Armacost may resign to take an executive position at another institution or system of higher education within 90 days after resigning from UND, but he must provide at least 60 days' written notice. He would also have to pay a recruitment fee of $47,500 no later than 90 days after his resignation day. The recruitment fee will decrease by $15,833 for each contract year Armacost completes.
The recruitment fee would be waived if Armacost is hired outside of higher education. It would also be waived if Armacost’s “compensation or benefits are decreased or if Dr. Armacost’s authority, duties or responsibilities” are diminished.
If Armacost were chosen as a finalist for an executive position at another university, the chancellor could treat the finalist status as a notice of resignation.