New UND President Andrew Armacost wraps up first week in office
Andrew Armacost wrapped up his first week as UND president from his office in Colorado Springs Friday afternoon after a week that saw Grand Forks react to reverberating tragedies.
Armacost begins his presidency as the nation and the community wrestle with death: George Floyd died after a confrontation with Minneapolis police officers. Grand Forks Police Officer Cody Holte was killed in the line of duty. Two airmen died violently in a Grand Forks Air Force Base dormitory.
A march was held in Grand Forks Thursday afternoon for Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after he was pinned to the ground for more than eight minutes by a white police officer in Minneapolis. On Tuesday, a memorial service was held for Holte at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
“(It’s) kind of a sad backdrop, a difficult backdrop to begin a presidency,” he said. “But I'm excited to be able to move into this position to take a leadership role on the campus.”
The killing of Floyd was a “national tragedy” but has opened up an important dialogue across the nation and locally, Armacost said. The four officers involved in the incident have since been fired and arrested.
Armacost said he’s heard from current students, alumni and members of the public about their outrage over what has happened in Minneapolis. He said the campus wants to have discussions about how students, faculty and staff can help the state, region and nation overcome the challenges that have been faced by people of color for hundreds of years.
“College campuses are a remarkable place to actually promote that type of discussion,” he said.
“And the goal of the discussion is to move forward and really influence and have important growth and dialogue among our students, and faculty and staff about what makes a fair and just society.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, it has been difficult to have those discussions in person, but Armacost said the university has been and plans to reach out to students in any way it can to further those discussions. Armacost said he’s had Zoom meetings specifically with student athletes this week to talk about issues going on in the athletic department and the nation.
On Tuesday, UND’s athletics department admitted it made a mistake in using an athlete, who was once in a video recording where racist language was used, on a season-ticket advertising graphic. The university issued a lengthy statement on the issue.
"UND Athletics acknowledges they made a mistake featuring the student-athlete in the promotional material,” part of the statement read. “This is even more unfortunate at a time when so many communities are struggling with questions of racial diversity and equality. UND Athletics will use this opportunity to review and reassess its internal processes for promotion of student-athletes in the public sphere.”
Armacost said a message will be sent to students later, further addressing his first week in office, as well as addressing Floyd's killing and what is happening on campus.
Armacost was appointed to the president’s position in December after an unanimous vote by the State Board of Higher Education. He takes over leadership from Joshua Wynne, who served as interim president of the university for nearly a year.
Wynne, who is also dean of the UND medical school, now serves as the head of a “smart restart” task force for the North Dakota University System, while also being appointed the state’s chief health strategist.
As he closed out his time as interim president last week, Wynne said Armacost “shows the intelligence sensitivity, insight, willingness to learn that I think is going to stand UND and the community and North Dakota in very good stead.”
Armacost has been working part-time for the university since the beginning of the semester, collaborating with Wynne on all topics that affect the long-term future of the university.
Because of the pandemic, Armacost is starting his presidency in Colorado. He is expected to be on campus the third week of June.
Armacost’s contract is for three years, through June 30, 2023. His 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. He is the 13th president of UND.