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Committee hears from candidates for NDSU presidency

FARGO -- The North Dakota State University presidential search committee put five candidates in the hot seat Saturday. Members of the committee interviewed five of eight candidates at Fargo's Ramada Plaza Suites and will meet with the remaining t...

FARGO -- The North Dakota State University presidential search committee put five candidates in the hot seat Saturday.

Members of the committee interviewed five of eight candidates at Fargo's Ramada Plaza Suites and will meet with the remaining three today.

The 20-person committee met with each candidate for about two hours, peppering each candidate with questions such as why they are pursuing the NDSU presidency, how they would strengthen NDSU's research activity and what role athletics should play in a university.

A handful of higher education leaders, faculty and members of the public sat in on the interviews.

After today's interviews, the committee will decide which candidates to invite to campus in late April and early May for further interviews.

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"We have some tough choices to make, which is good; that's what we want," committee chairman Steve Swiontek said.

Here are some highlights from each candidate's interview.

Tom Keon

Tom Keon, 60, is dean of business administration for the University of Central Florida in Orlando, the third-largest university in the country with more than 53,000 students.

Keon, dean of the largest college at UCF, played a major role in transitioning the college from a teaching institution to a research university.

Keon said he is comprehensive in how he approaches planning and would be careful not to overextend programs without taking costs into consideration.

"You can come up with glitzy exciting ideas that show progress, but if those then bankrupt you, you're in trouble," Keon said.

Keon said he is a team player but also tends to be a "bur under the saddle."

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"I like to challenge thoughts, but my challenge of thoughts is generally to enrich the decision-making," Keon said.

Keon said he believes in getting issues out in the open and discussing them.

"Being in front of groups of faculty or students and being willing to answer any question that comes is where you get your purest transparency," Keon said.

Keon has a wife, Nancy.

Priscilla Nelson

Priscilla Nelson, 60, is professor of civil and environmental engineering and former provost of New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, which has more than 8,800 students.

As provost, Nelson said she met with students often and worked with them when they came to her with concerns, such as when they felt there was too much cheating.

"Students have great ideas, and I like students to be engaged and feel responsible for the environment that they're in," she said.

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Nelson said universities haven't paid enough attention to graduate students, and she wishes they would do more to engage that population.

"Whether I come here or not, do that," she said.

Nelson said she stepped down from provost of NJIT in her fourth year because she was serving as a buffer between faculty and the administration, and she reached a point where she wasn't having fun in that role.

Previously, Nelson worked for the National Science Foundation for 11 years.

Nelson, who referenced Star Trek when answering a question about how she handles conflict, said humor is key.

"I keep a sense of humor really strong," Nelson said.

John Gardner

John Gardner, 52, is vice president for economic development and global engagement for Washington State University in Seattle, which has more than 18,000 students.

Gardner, who directed the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center from 1987 to 1996, emphasized the connections he made in North Dakota and his desire to return to the state.

"North Dakota State gave me my first job in my career," he said. "I have watched NDSU ever since I left with, frankly, amazement."

Gardner, who has worked for five land-grant universities, said land-grant institutions shouldn't be about prestige or bragging rights. Rather, the central focus should be bringing a return on investment to the university's constituents.

"We should be about relevancy," he said.

Gardner said he believes in a bottom-up approach when building budgets and providing continual feedback to employees.

He also said student involvement in decision-making is key.

Gardner said NDSU should put together a 2020 vision to increase research productivity and stay competitive with other universities.

While in North Dakota, Gardner was chief executive and founder of an agricultural start-up company, AgGrow Oils.

Gardner and his wife, Julie, have three adult children.

Gary Miller

Gary Miller, 56, is provost and vice president for academic affairs and research at Wichita (Kan.) State University, which has about 14,700 students.

Miller said his college experience was transformational for him and he aims to make it a transformational experience for other students.

Miller said he thinks he can bring to NDSU a "vision of a land-grant institution in a global world," enthusiasm for building partnerships and a desire to work with faculty, staff and students to move a university forward.

"Your institution has very few limits, and that is part of the enthusiasm that brings me here today," Miller said.

If he became NDSU president, Miller said he'd spend the first year thinking about the mission and vision of the university and building a narrative.

Miller said that as provost, he aims to be visible in the community and involve students in events.

"The local community, they really want to see you," Miller said. "But they also want to see your students."

Athletic and arts programs at a university serve to connect alumni, students and friends of the institution, he said.

"The intangible benefit to the university is almost incalculable in my view," Miller said.

Miller and his wife, Georgia, have three adult children.

Benjamin Ogles

Benjamin Ogles, 49, is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University in Athens, a university of more than 32,000 students.

Ogles, a clinical psychologist, said he often receives e-mails from recruiters about administrative job openings, but the NDSU job is the first and only one he's applied for. He said NDSU's progress in the past 10 years piqued his interest.

Ogles said if the committee is looking for someone to come to NDSU to make rapid changes, he's not the man for the job.

"I'm more likely to come in and ask smart people to help me figure out how to maintain the momentum," he said.

One area Ogles has emphasized as dean is encouraging more diversity in hiring practices. By instituting training for department leaders and making it a priority, the percentage of minority hires has increased, he said.

Ogles, who continues to teach as dean, said students are his favorite part of the job and he'd involve them in committees and decision-making.

Ogles and his wife, Maureen, have seven children, ranging in age from 25 to 12.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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