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UPDATE: Four N.D. chancellor hopefuls interviewed; all will advance to final round

BISMARCK -- All four chancellor candidates, including Sen. Tim Flakoll of Fargo, will advance to the final round of interviews in the search for North Dakota's next chancellor of higher education.

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BISMARCK -- All four chancellor candidates, including Sen. Tim Flakoll of Fargo, will advance to the final round of interviews in the search for North Dakota's next chancellor of higher education.

The finalists will meet with the state Board of Higher Education on March 13 for additional interviews before the board selects the new chancellor.

The other candidates are Marshall Hill, executive director of Nebraska's Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education; Hamid Shirvani, president of California State University-Stanislaus; and Warren Wray, the interim chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Flakoll is provost of the Tri-College University of Fargo-Moorhead.

After lengthy discussion Wednesday of whether to narrow the list of candidates, the majority of members on the search committee voted to advance all four.


Candidate praise

The vote came after a full day of interviewing each of the candidates in Bismarck. The committee did not rank the candidates, but Hill received the most praise.

"I clearly thought he was the best interview," Joe Rothschiller of Dickinson said.

Search committee members also said they were impressed by Shirvani's broad experience in higher education, Wray's quiet, straightforward approach and Flakoll's energy.

The committee covered a wide range of issues, including faculty salaries, higher education funding and management style. How the candidates would improve the relationship between higher education and the Legislature was also a key question.

Flakoll, a Republican who has served in the Legislature since 1998, said the number of legislators who have issues with higher education "is more isolated than is probably recognized."

But he said both sides need to work on rebuilding trust.

"I think you need to invest that time, get that buy in from them," he said. "What are their concerns? What are their issues? They want to be heard, also."


Flakoll pointed to the success of the North Dakota Commission on Education Improvement to make advances in K-12 education.

Bringing together the chancellor, legislators, the business industry and campus representatives in a similar way would have all parties feeling fully invested, he said.

Hill said legislators appreciate candor, truthfulness and direct conversation. It's easier to make the argument on behalf of higher education when the focus is on the needs of students, he said.

"Focusing relationships with the Legislature on that key point, rather than on institutional differences, I think is important," he said.

There needs to be a re-examination of the role of the chancellor, the relationship between the chancellor and the board, and the relationship between the board and the Legislature, Hill said.

There should be a strong chancellor who acts at the direction of the board's general policies, but is chief operating and executive officer of the system, he said.

Shirvani said there needs to be a clear plan and vision of where to take higher education. Legislators need to know things are not going to be like the past, and the system is going to be more effective, fruitful and beneficial to state residents, he said.

He emphasized the need to create more policies to clarify tasks and responsibilities within the system and the need for a unified system.


Perception of higher education

Candidates were also asked how to improve the perception of higher education in the state.

Wray said the University of Missouri System has created Advancing Missouri, which breaks down by county the positive impact of the system. People can see how many alumni are in each county, how many students are enrolled in the system and the economic impact, he said.

Wray said he saw several key qualities the search committee wanted in the new chancellor: a CEO, a communicator and a relationship-builder.

"I want the board to develop a policy and tell me what it wants implemented, and that's what I'll do," he said.

Flakoll said he was earnest about rebuilding trust and relationships. He discussed the connections he already has in the state and said he was a "take-charge" person ready to lead.

North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani asked if the role of the chancellor is to lead the campuses and presidents or support them. Hill said it's both.

"I'm a realist enough to know that sometimes there are institutional differences," Hill said. "I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing. I don't believe the chancellor should want nor should the board want passive institutional presidents who do nothing more than what they're told ... but there has to be harnessing to a common goal."


The new chancellor will succeed Bill Goetz, who is retiring in August.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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