When incoming UND Provost Eric Link visited the UND campus in 2013, Winter Storm Eric was barreling through Grand Forks and bringing a foot of snow with it. Maybe it was a sign.
Although the storm – named as per tradition by the Grand Forks Herald – was named after another Eric, it was a fun coincidence, Link said.
“I thought it was hysterical,” he said with a laugh during a recent video interview with the Herald.
Somewhere, he said, he still has the newspaper from that March day.
“I’ll have to get that front page and get it framed and hang it up in my office,” he said.
Link was selected as provost on Feb. 12 following a nationwide search. He was among four finalists for the position. He was hired just as Texas, where he lives with his family and where he serves as provost of the University of Houston-Downtown, was dealing with its own winter mess, with freezing temperatures, snow and ice.
It gives him a taste of what’s likely to come after he moves to Grand Forks. He’ll begin his duties as provost on July 1.
Despite the winter storm that occurred when he first visited campus for a business trip back in 2013, Link said he enjoyed his visit to UND and the community.
“I thought Grand Forks was fantastic. The people were so friendly and welcoming,” he said. “I just really got interested in higher education in that area.”
He said when he saw the provost’s position was available at UND, he was immediately interested.
“It's got a long, rich history,” Link said of UND. “Lots of great work is going on at UND.”
He noted UND is a flagship research university, serving not only Grand Forks and North Dakota, but students from around the country and the world.
UND President Andrew Armacost said he and Link have had frequent interactions via phone and text, but everything has been done entirely by distance thus far due to COVID-19 precautions. Additionally, Armacost noted that Link is still the provost at UHD, so he and other university leaders don’t want to “burden him with responsibilities here.”
“We're excited to bring him on board,” Armacost said. “He's got an amazing experience as both an educator and a scholar, but also as a leader in higher-ed. He has a track record that really stood out to me, in terms of shared governance, in terms of developing new curriculum, and also in terms of incredible work on diversity, equity and inclusion. When I look at a person who's going to really bring our campus together, I think Dr. Link brings all those capabilities that the campus will look toward.”
Link, originally from Boston, comes to UND with decades of experience in higher education, including the last two years as the provost of UHD, an institution with more than 15,000 students. The campuses are different in many ways. UHD is a mostly urban campus that serves minority students and especially Hispanic students, Link said.
“It's a very, very diverse campus that really reflects the population of the city of Houston itself, which is a very, very diverse city in the United States,” Link said.
Though UND’s student makeup may look different, he said UHD and UND share the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Link has also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Purdue University Fort Wayne, Ind., from 2015-19. He was an associate dean at the University of Memphis and was a professor and head of the Department of Language and Literature at North Georgia College and State University.
Link’s hiring also comes during the middle of the pandemic, which means he hasn’t been able to step on UND’s campus since the interview process began last year. It was a unique experience, he said.
“I have never gone through a hiring process quite like this one before,” he said. “But that's true for all of us, right? None of us have. This is brand new territory with the pandemic.”
He noted, though, that the process went smoothly.
Higher education institutions will have to adjust and learn after the pandemic is over, Link said. Even though institutions like UND and UHD were both offering academic programs online prior to the pandemic, leaders have to sort out how to use new technologies after and what the classroom might look like.
“Every institution now, because of the pandemic, is an online institution,” he said. “All institutions of higher education, and I'm sure this is true for UND, are really trying to grapple with what it means to be participating in a higher education landscape where students are needing tools like Zoom, and Microsoft Teams, in order to engage in the classroom."
And Link wonders: "What lessons can we take from this pandemic to help us get ready for something in the future?”
Link will take over for Debbie Storrs, who was named interim provost and vice president for academic affairs in June 2020. She served as dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences from 2013-2018, when she was appointed senior vice provost.