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Higher ed board narrows interim chancellor search to 3

BISMARCK -- The State Board of Higher Education narrowed its search Friday to three North Dakotans as candidates for interim chancellor of the University System.

After conducting teleconference interviews, the board voted to conduct a second interview with:

- Larry Skogen, Bismarck State College president and acting chancellor.

- Shane Goettle, a former North Dakota commerce commissioner.

- Bruce Furness, former mayor of Fargo.

The board will discuss the terms of the interim chancellor's contract before the interviews Sept. 16 or 17.

"I'm pleased with the three candidates and pleased they are North Dakotans," said Kirsten Diederich, president of the state board. "All six did a good job today in their interview, but the board had to make a decision to move forward."

Five of the six board members present voted for the three North Dakota applicants. Board member Carrie Reichert voted for Skogen, Goettle and Gordon Davies, a former director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

"It was all about the work and mission of the system for him," Reichert said. "He would bring a refreshing and objective perspective to the system -- he hasn't been involved with the politics."

The other two candidates were Kendall Blanchard, president of Georgia Southwestern State University, and Michael Wartell, former chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

The Association of Community College Trustees, a nonprofit educational organization of governing boards that has been helping with the selection process, will do more background research on the candidates and work with the University System to draft a contract.

The state board plans to name an interim chancellor by Sept. 25. Skogen was appointed in June to temporarily fill the position after the board's decision to buy out the contract of former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani after months of turmoil surrounding his leadership style.

With two of the three candidates coming without a higher education background, Reichert said, "It will pose a challenge and come down to what support structure they put together."

Diederich said there will be a learning curve if either of those two are selected.

In the interview, Skogen emphasized getting through the Higher Learning Commission's visit to North Dakota in response to a complaint over the system's governance and rebuilding the trust with every group involved in higher education. He also looked ahead to the 2015 legislative session.

"We want the board and institutions to be on best footing for that," he said.

Former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness said that after looking through various University System documents, "I don't see a whole lot that's broken."

Furness said the first thing he would do is listen to everyone with a stake in higher education.

"I'm really big on getting input from all sources," he said.

Furness said he would not move to Bismarck if he was selected, but would commute from Fargo on Mondays and drive back on Fridays.

When asked about his involvement with elected officials, Goettle emphasized his work from Washington, D.C., to Bismarck in various government roles. But it's the students, he said, who are the rallying point to get the system turned around.

"The student is our primary mission," he said. "We always have to ask how to effectively serve students better."

Whoever is chosen will serve at least a year or until July 1, 2015, when the state board and chancellor's office would be abolished and replaced with a new three-member commission if a constitutional amendment is approved by voters in the November 2014 election.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.