Research is important to UND President Mark Kennedy, and shortly after being named the finalist for the presidency of the University of Colorado and its four-campus system, Kennedy told the Herald he is proud to have helped push research awareness during his three-year tenure in Grand Forks.
"To elevate the importance of discovery for a flagship university and hopefully help the state have a broader understanding of how transformational and impactful for the future of the state would be one thing," Kennedy answered what makes him proud about his time at UND.
Tuesday, the Herald reported rumors that Kennedy was to be named the finalist for the presidency of the University of Colorado and its four-campus system. Wednesday, it was official: Kennedy indeed is the finalist, and now is awaiting word from the Colorado Board of Regents before officially being offered the job.
Shortly after the announcement, the Herald had a brief telephone conversation with Kennedy, discussing his time at UND and the process that led to him to become the finalist at Colorado.
Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for brevity.
Q: How long has this process been going on? Were you headhunted or did you apply?
I was headhunted. Actually, the same headhunter who called me about Minnesota State a year or two ago-and I told him no-but he was able to convince me to apply.
Q: And how long has this been happening?
It's been going for a couple of months.
Q: How is this different than other jobs? For instance, we have talked about whether you did or did not apply at the University of Minnesota, when that presidency came open. How do you see this role as different from that role?
First of all, it is hard, as the saying goes, for a prophet to be accepted in their hometown. I am not a prophet, but Minnesota has an experience of me that would make it a bit harder to make the transition into a university president.
If you think about it, the closest thing (in similarity) to Minneapolis, Minn., is Denver, Colo. ... It's also like North Dakota, a western state. If you look at the rankings, they are the highest-ranked school within 1,000 miles in any direction, just as, I believe, (UND is) the highest-ranked school within 300 miles in every direction.
Q: Could you clarify how the process works from here on out? What happens next?
The arrangements for having a single finalist is that you have to leave that nomination open for two weeks before the board would then gather and make the final appointment. Debbie and I will be spending the week of April 22 in Colorado having meetings with the systems office in each of the four campuses, which will include public forums and opportunities for people to provide input.
Q: In a statement you sent out, you said you're "sorry to leave UND." That implies it's a done deal. Is it?
It would be presumptuous to say it's a done deal until after this period. I maybe should have put "we would be sorry to leave UND." It is not a final deal. It is highly unusual that it is not the final selection, but that option remains until the regents vote again in two weeks.
Q: Would that decision be after you visit the campuses?
I would expect it will be after. They will be collecting a wide range of input, I'm sure. Typically, they announce their regents meetings a day ahead of time. So sometime after my visits, you will likely hear of a regents meeting being scheduled, and that is when that vote would be taken. They, like North Dakota, are an open-records state, so I very much appreciate all the training you guys have provided me for this upcoming experience if it actually moves forward.
Q: What about this job intrigues you?
I find great satisfaction in training and providing the opportunity that a degree provides the next generation. Both Debbie and I are first-generation college graduates. So to have 70,000 students that you are able to impact their lives in a positive way is even more satisfying.
But also, when you combine the Boulder and Anschutz campuses at a billion dollars in research, they are the 13th largest research university in the nation. And a special attraction to a Kennedy, it's the largest with NASA, the space program.
As you know, research is important to me and I believe the state and the nation, as I have advocated for expanded investment in research across the state of North Dakota, coming into such a phenomenal research enterprise is also very attractive to me. And again, the fact that you have four different campuses each with a different mission that have both the flagship excellence (and) the outreach to the broader population with very significant research is something that makes this highly attractive to us.
Q: Of your time at UND, what are you most proud of?
I am most proud of multiple things, so I will have a hard time choosing. For example, I was sitting and talking with Hesham el-Rewini, who is leaving UND to become provost (at Marymount University in Virginia), and he said "you know, they're talking about research a lot more since you got here." So to elevate the importance of discovery for a flagship university and hopefully help the state have a broader understanding of how transformational and impactful that can be for the future of the state would be one thing.
But perhaps more rewarding for me is the 10 percentage point improvement in four-year graduation rate in three years. That is a completely different educational experience we are delivering today than we were delivering three years ago.
And third, when you add everything up, if the future requests for public-private partnerships yield fruit and the other things we are trying to have finalized in the Legislature happen, and we finish off the fundraising for the business school, we could have nearly a half-billion dollars in construction in prospect within the next several years on campus. It is going to be a completely different campus two or three years from now than it was when I arrived three years ago.
Elevation in student success, an elevation in the intensity and focus on discovery, and a transformed campus in prospect would be three things I take satisfaction in.
But we have also taken a couple more steps in the transition of engaging in embracing at the current student level the Fighting Hawks, and the mascot and the degree to which nearly every sport has fully embraced it, as have the athletes, is amongst the most difficult transitions that any university can go through, and we are another chapter in that book further than we were when I got here.
Q: And if you leave, will you leave with any disappointments about your time here?
I generally take a habit in life about forgetting disappointments. I don't have any disappointments other than that we have to leave, if we end up leaving. ... This is an area we feel very attached to, and as I have said, we look forward to coming back and visiting the many friends we have made and continuing to watch and support, to the extent we can, the continued progress at the University of North Dakota.
Q: If you leave, do you know who will be acting president?
Just as we would not presume what the Regents in Colorado would ultimately vote on as it relates to Mark Kennedy, I'm certainly not in a position to forecast what the (North Dakota) Board of Higher Education would ultimately do in that regard.
They have indicated their intent is to have that new person identified prior to me transitioning out June 15. My only comment would be that we have a lot of great things going on at the University of North Dakota. If we didn't, I wouldn't be the sole finalist for the president of the University of Colorado.
I am very intent on keeping that momentum going and progress happening at the University of North Dakota. I am looking forward to having nice UND memorabilia on myself and thinking proud thoughts about it for years and decades to come.
Q: Is there anything you would have done different during your time here?
The one thing I would do different is I said early on in the process, before knowing how severe the budget was going to be, that we were considering (cuts to) sports once. I would never say never again. That is one thing that I would do different. If you could change the fact that you didn't face a 20 percent cut in state funding your first year, but I don't know that that was in my control. ...
What makes me most proud of the good people at the University of North Dakota is that even with that headwind, we had a 10 percentage point improvement in the four-year graduation rate, a jump in research expenditure, hundreds of millions of dollars-much of it private funds-transforming the campus. That is just the top shelf of the progress that has been achieved. ...
If I could do one thing over, I would have figured out a way that the city and state would be able to recognize and appreciate the phenomenal progress that has happening at the University of North Dakota.