MINOT, N.D. - Reading the headline, I’m sure some of you readers think I’m getting ahead of myself.
After all, University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy got a bit ahead of himself when he sent a goodbye letter to the campus community, touting himself as the sole finalist for a new gig at the University of Colorado.
He doesn’t actually have that job yet and given some of the pushback he’s getting - mostly due to his socially conservative voting record as a Republican member of Congress - he may not get it. As I write this, at least one official who voted to make Kennedy a finalist has gone on the record saying she’s reconsidering the decision.
What a colossal gaffe that would be for Kennedy, bidding North Dakota farewell (and suggesting we’re a bunch of racists along the way) only to find out the job he’s leaving for isn’t waiting for him.
Which brings me back to the headline.
We’re going to have to replace Kennedy, because he’s made his position at the University of North Dakota untenable.
Even if Colorado won’t take him, North Dakota can’t keep him.
Kennedy’s hire was the result of a lengthy and very expensive search process. Our university system spent nearly $140,000 on consultants and a vetting committee, which is a big price tag even measured against the casual profligacies of higher education.
That sort of process has failed us again and again. When the North Dakota University System needs new leadership they turn to high-priced consultants with the goal of finding a “rock star” or a “visionary.”
What we end up with are candidates like Kennedy, who are happy to play at being visionary for the rubes from within a dense cloud of smug while cashing big paychecks and looking for a better gig somewhere else.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
It’s a product of a sort of self loathing that’s ingrained in the North Dakota psyche. In the same way that Americans tend to think that anyone with a British accent is intelligent - anyone remember Rita from Arrested Development? - North Dakotans believe the best recruits for an important position come from out of state.
We’ve got to get over that.
The North Dakota University System needs to do more promoting from within.
When we start the process of replacing Kennedy - it’s coming, one way or another - let’s look at the pool of talent we have in North Dakota. People already in our university system. People already living and working in our communities.
We have a lot of smart people in North Dakota who would be a wonderful leader for UND. Candidates who understand our culture and communities. Who are known quantities for the public, not to mention elected officials like lawmakers with whom university presidents must work.
Let’s not look for a visionary or a rock star to replace Kennedy.
Let’s look for someone with deep North Dakota roots who will bring a more workmanlike mentality to the job.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.