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NDUS names vice chancellor: Bismarck State official to oversee academic, student affairs

By Stephen J. Lee

GRAND FORKS — Larry Skogen, interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System, announced Monday he’s hired a friend and former colleague as interim vice chancellor.

He said Sonia Cowen will start Nov. 12 as vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the NDUS, which oversees the 11 schools in the system.

Skogen was in Grand Forks Monday, in part to visit with members of the Higher Learning Commission’s accreditation team which is visiting the University of North Dakota this week, sent from the North Central Association in Chicago.

He announced Cowen’s hiring as part of his “fresh start” he said he’s making after months of controversy across the state, on campuses, in the Legislature and in the news, over how the State Board of Higher Education and NDUS under Chancellor Hamid Shirvani led the state’s institutions of higher education.

“The past year has had its challenges but it’s a new day now,” Skogen said in a news release Monday. “The Board, the North Dakota University System and the presidents of our colleges and universities all share the same goal: to provide our students with a quality education that helps them take full advantage of the ever-growing job opportunities in North Dakota.”

Leadership changes

Just a month ago, Skogen was named interim chancellor of the NDUS, effective Nov. 1 until July 1, 2015. He has been serving as acting chancellor since the State Board voted in June to buy out Shirvani, ending his short but controversial tenure of a year.

Skogen remains president of Bismarck State College, but is on leave while he’s chancellor.

His salary as interim chancellor is $291,000 a year and he does not collect his Bismarck State College salary during the interim, said Linda Donlin, spokeswoman for NDUS.

A search for a permanent successor to Shirvani is expected to take a year and a half.

Last week, David Clark, executive vice president at Bismarck State, was named interim president of the school until Skogen is back on the job.

Cowen replaces Michael Hillman, who was temporarily holding the job of vice chancellor. She will make $187,000 a year.

Academic career

Skogen said he worked with Cowen when he ran the New Mexico Institute, and they share a background in the Air Force.

“She’s worked in three (university) systems,” he said, which gives her experience that will be valuable as he pushes the Pathways to Student Success plan aimed at improving academic performance on the state’s colleges and universities.

“I actually asked her to do me a favor,” Skogen said of appointing Cowen to the short-term contract.

Cowen has a doctorate in educational leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and 30 years’ experience in academia, including contracting with the Air Force and Army to teach leadership to officers and recruits, according to Skogen’s news release.

UND President Robert Kelley and Kirsten Diederich, chairwoman of the State Board of Higher Education, joined Skogen in a meeting with Grand Forks Herald editors and its publisher Monday.

Skogen planned to meet later with the Higher Learning Commission team members on UND’s campus.

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