Former interim UND President Ed Schafer said Monday he wouldn’t rule out serving in that capacity again, although he doesn’t consider himself a candidate for a full-time position.
The former governor was interim president at UND in 2016, prior to current President Mark Kennedy’s arrival.
Kennedy is the sole finalist for the presidency at the University of Colorado and would oversee four campuses in that system. There is a 14-day waiting period before the CU Board of Regents takes a final vote on Kennedy.
Schafer said UND will need to decide how to recruit a new president and if the university plans to hire a stand-in on an interim basis. Schafer said he couldn’t rule out becoming interim president again.
“Nancy and I loved our time at UND,” he said. “We really appreciated our time on campus. We signed up for six months and at the end we kind of thought ‘we could’ve been there longer.’ So from that standpoint it is something that is certainly of interest, but on the other hand we’re in different stages of life and the reality is that nobody even knows what the parameters are.”
Schafer said he hopes the university will find someone willing to build on projects Kennedy started. Because of his age, 72, he said he would not consider a bid to become the permanent president if Kennedy leaves.
“These things are long-term. You set this thing in motion and it takes five, six years to get it to unfold. What you want is someone who is going to be there and he or she would commit to the long-term and you have the chance to build the university over time to build the relationships, to put the things together that you need to do -- that’s a five year process or more,” he said. “And at 72 years old, where I am now -- cripes! -- I’m going to be in my grave in five years. In any case, five years from now, I don’t think that I would fit the profile of what you want for a young, dynamic, committed university president.”
Meanwhile, the process for Kennedy continues. Two Colorado University System officials plan to visit UND this week to evaluate Kennedy as a routine part of the vetting process.
Patrick O’Rourke, vice president of the University Counsel and secretary of the Board of Regents, and Kathy Nesbitt, vice president for administration, plan to meet with students and staff at UND Thursday in a somewhat informal manner, according to CU spokesman Ken McConnellogue.
“You can do reference checks and talk to people and hear from people, but there’s a lot to be said about talking with the people who are closest to the situation,” he said.
Travel plans are still being arranged for O’Rourke and Nesbitt, but McConnellogue said they plan to spend most of Thursday on campus. It is uncertain if they will return to Colorado that day or Friday.
A story published Tuesday, April 9, by the Herald, which reported Kennedy was rumored to be leaving his post as UND president, caused the CU System to release Kennedy’s name as finalist earlier than planned, McConnellogue previously told the Herald.
One regent has since challenged the decision to name him finalist, calling for more scrutiny on Kennedy’s congressional voting record. During his time as a U.S. representative from 2001-2007, Kennedy voted against same-sex marriage and to restrict abortion rights.
He penned a letter to UND staff and students Wednesday that described mixed feelings of excitement over the new opportunity and sadness upon leaving UND.
Friday, North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott sent Kennedy a letter accepting his “de facto notice of resignation,” based on statements Kennedy made throughout the week to the university community and media.
Kennedy sent a letter back Saturday to stress that he has not resigned yet.
Hagerott was unavailable to comment Monday. Kennedy declined to comment on the matter, UND spokesperson Dave Dodds said. He will not be available for the weekly conference call with the Herald Tuesday as he prepares to visit University of Colorado campuses next week.
Kennedy is scheduled to visit the Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and Anschutz Medical campuses.
Dozens of students gathered Monday afternoon at UC Boulder to protest Kennedy’s appointment. Many held signs declaring their distaste for the presidential finalist as they chanted in unison: “Kennedy must go away! Racist, sexist, anti-gay!”
McConnellogue said although the outcry against Kennedy has been loud, “it hasn’t impacted the process, but it’s heightened awareness of it, certainly.”
Protests broke out throughout the four campuses when retiring President Bruce Benson was a finalist for the position, McConnellogue said, although he believes social media has fueled tensions during Kennedy’s candidacy.
“We’ve got a very passionate university community … whenever you name someone for a position like this, we always expect there are going to be people who are thrilled about it and people who are unhappy about it,” McConnellogue said.