Recent events paint a portrait of Andrew Armacost’s first few months as president at UND.
During a discussion with the UND Foundation and invited guests Armacost and his wife, Kathy, hosted a loose conversation during which he showed a hint of a grand vision.
A few days later, during his inauguration ceremony, viewers got a glimpse of how Armacost has interacted with employees and others since he took office in June.
When Armacost was hired, the campus was in flux. Various issues existed, but were dwarfed by concerns about campus morale. Enough time has passed that it’s superfluous to dredge up the issues, but high turnover in the president’s office – five leaders since 2015 – didn’t ease the campus’ frayed nerves.
Enter Armacost, whose chief task in the early months of his tenure, in our opinion, was to continue the stability begun by interim President Joshua Wynne. Coronavirus notwithstanding, it appears – judging from the anecdotal comments that always flow toward a local newspaper – that has been achieved.
And he has shown vision. During last week’s UND Foundation meeting, for instance, Armacost outlined a dream for UND.
“I want to launch satellites from Grand Forks,” he said. “I'll say that again: I want to launch satellites from Grand Forks meaning, design them and control them.”
He later clarified that it’s a long-term vision and not a short-term mission for the university.
But why not launch satellites from Grand Forks? UND has an aerospace program that’s among the best in the nation, a nearby Air Force base and is located in a place with wide-open spaces and a crisp, clear environment. The university should be thinking in terms of its usefulness to the nation’s burgeoning Space Force.
This week, at his inauguration event, he was lauded as collaborative and inclusive.
“You take our concerns seriously and you keep direct lines of communication open,” Staff Senate President Megan Wasylow said during the event. “You have an incredible ability to make people feel comfortable, energized and welcomed.”
So far, so good, but real work lies just ahead. It will be interesting to watch Armacost maneuver through difficult paths in the coming months.
The Legislature convenes in January, and UND and NDSU are expected to again push for big dollars for research purposes. This is an important initiative and Armacost must play a leading role. We’ve seen his inclusive personality at work within the community; can that kind of diplomacy play with state lawmakers who shunned the research idea in 2019?
Armacost also has several key positions to fill at UND, including provost, vice president for research and economic development, and dean of the aerospace school. His hiring decisions will impact UND for years. He simply cannot swing and miss on these important positions.
What skills will he bring to this process? Can he use his Air Force background to help target the best possible candidates for, say, the aerospace position?
In his first months, he has done well with inclusivity, collaboration and morale, all within the great shadow cast by the pandemic. That’s the first chapter of his story at UND.
New chapters, and new challenges, await.