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Interim chancellor candidates make their pitches

BISMARCK -- The two remaining candidates vying to become the interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System want to put a larger focus on students, data collection and measuring student outcomes.

The candidates, Shane Goettle, a former state commerce commissioner, and Larry Skogen, current acting interim chancellor and president of Bismarck State College, each had 30-minute Monday to tell the State Board of Higher Education of how they will implement the system's plan to boost all areas of student performance -- Pathways to Student Success.

"They both did a good job," said Kristen Diederich, president of the state board. "They both want collaboration at all levels and their ideas are all inclusive and that's what the University System needs."

The state board will make its selection at the regular Sept. 25 meeting at Bismarck State. Once selected, the position will preside over the 11 system institutions until June 30, 2015, when former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's contract will expire.

The position may also be replaced July 1, 2015, if voters approve the November 2014 measure removing the state board and chancellor position and replacing it with a new three-member commission.

Diederich said both candidates have many qualities to offer the University System and state board, from Skogen's educational background and tenure within the system, to Goettle's management and relationships with policy makers.

Skogen pointed to collaboration, common definitions, data-driven decisions and measurable outcomes as four strategies to put in place to move Pathways forward.

But he said, "it is moving forward," showing the board an email he sent to the college presidents in early August highlighting changes to the admissions process as part of the Pathways plan.

"It's not something that has been put on hold, your institutions are moving forward smartly with this," he said.

Skogen also said the University System needs to maintain a stronger focus on students.

"So often, we sometimes lose track of the fact that we have the students and we are doing this for the students, "he said. "They are the most important stakeholder and we have to keep that in focus."

Goettle laid out his five goals he wants to fulfill: building and restoring trust, strong management, build a budget, communicate with all stakeholders and make the mission focused on students.

He pointed out the University System's mission does not include "student" and wants to add it in.

"If we do this with our mission, it puts the student at the center of everything else," he said. "It puts it in the middle of the goals. The student becomes the focus of our daily work, that's how it should be, but we need to remind ourselves of that day-in and day-out."

Coming from outside the system, Goettle said an advantage he has is that he's been a part of many conversations where people don't hesitate to tell him what they think.

"I bring in a whole set of skills I've developed over the years. That experience is important," he said. "I've developed very healthy relationships with policy makers. I know that process, I believe I have become a trusted source for legislators, I don't hide anything."

Diederich and vice president Terry Hjelmstad will set the terms of the contract before the Sept. 25 meeting.

The terms will include: a required evaluation process, the terms for termination and separation, the priorities for the interim chancellor and the interim chancellor can't be a candidate for the permanent position in July 2015 -- a decision Narcisa Polonio, the state board's consultant with the Association of Community College Trustees, said is common practice. The state board can change its mind later and allow the interim chancellor to apply.

"If you have an interim, it has a limitation for time of service and expectations from the board," Polonio said. "You want to give very clear signals about what you expect them to accomplish. If they have aspirations to become a permanent person, they might look at the job differently."

Diederich said the board has not discussed if it will require either candidate to leave their current job, but will as they discuss the contract.

If Skogen is selected, Diederich said they may consider an interim college president.

Skogen said,if he is selected, he anticipates the state board will put an interim president in place, allowing him to return to his college president role once the interim chancellor position term has been fulfilled.

Mike Nowatzki

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