Applicants for UND president shows regional ties, few women

GRAND FORKS -- The list of applicants who applied to be the University of North Dakota's next president reflects a wide range of experience, though some have already dropped out of consideration.

GRAND FORKS -- The list of applicants who applied to be the University of North Dakota’s  next president reflects a wide range of experience, though some have already dropped out of consideration.

Forty applied for the position, though three withdrew their applications because, according to a list compiled by consulting firm AGB Search, North Dakota's open record laws would make their names public. The list release Friday by the North Dakota University system puts the number of applicants at 37.

The advertisement for the position has been in circulation for more than a month through AGB, which was hired to screen candidates. Presidential Search Committee Co-chairman Hesham El-Rewini, who had seen the list but hadn't gone through applications in-depth, said he's happy with the number of applicants.

Senior consultant James McCormick said the applicant pool is typical for a state like North Dakota, which has open records laws allowing the names of applicants to be public. Other searches with restricted records generally see more.

"These people all know what the story is," McCormick said. "They're all interested enough to make a commitment, and we have some really good people in there for the committee to consider."


The last search for a UND president garnered 38 applicants. In recent searches for the North Dakota University System chancellor and other university system presidents, the lists of applicants have not noted people that dropped out before the applications were released, let alone the reason why.

But the list released Friday for the UND presidential search listed three unnamed candidates but gave their job titles,--a former executive vice chancellor, president and chancellor--all of whom stated, according to AGB, they withdrew their applications because their names could be released to the public.

McCormick said it was his company's decision to include the three dropouts and note why the candidates had done so.

"What you don't know is there could be a lot of people who didn't want to do it because it's public but we didn't get an application from them," he said.

UND President Robert Kelley retires Thursday and will be replaced in the interim by former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer.

The Presidential Search Committee plans to forward candidates to the State Board of Higher Education in March with the goal of having a long-term president take office in July.

No one from within UND applied for the job and applications "for best consideration" were due Monday, but El-Rewini said the committee would decide at the Jan. 20 meeting whether to consider any late applicants. The group will also narrow the list at that time.

"The door is not closed," he said.


The list

None of the applicants currently live in North Dakota, though some have ties to the area. At a December meeting, search committee members said they didn't want to limit the applicant pool by preferring in-state applicants.

Christopher Cramer is an associate dean at the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering, Robert Kennedy is the executive search consultant at AcademicKeys in Minnesota, Daniel Clay and Rodney Hanley are former faculty members and Mark Kennedy is a former Minnesota representative with family in North Dakota.

Both Lawrence McCrank and Robert Kennedy said they grew up in Minnesota and have family ties to North Dakota.

Ray Purpur was born in Grand Forks and is a 1987 UND graduate who attended the University of the Pacific in California before becoming the deputy director of athletics at Stanford University in 1994.

Purpur said he considered coming back to Grand Forks for UND's athletic director position in 2008, and when the president position opened up, he tried again. While he doesn't hold a doctorate degree, Purpur said he thinks he would be a good fit for the job, partially because he wants to plant roots and stay.

"If I got this job, it would be the last job I would have," he said.

Jay Noren attended the University of Minnesota and was a finalist for the UND presidency in 1992.


Only two women applied for the job; Helena Wisniewski, University of Alaska Anchorage vice provost for research and graduate studies, and Sandra Woodley, a former University of Louisiana System president and American Association of State Colleges and Universities senior fellow.

Woodley resigned from her post as president of the University of Louisiana System in November without giving a reason. The Times-Picayune of Greater New Orleans and reported she is serving in a transitional capacity through March 15, something she noted in her application.

El-Rewini couldn't speculate as to why more women did not applied.

"It's always better when you have a diverse group of applicants," he said. "It's better to have a rich pool, but I have no idea why that happened."

A deeper dive

Ronald Ambrosetti is one of three applicants who has seen controversy in recent years, a saga he called a "political kerfuffle with the Louisiana State Board of Nursing" in his cover letter.

In August 2014, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and reported Ambrosetti was the subject of a unanimous 45-0 faculty vote of no-confidence three months prior at the Our Lady of Holy Cross College, spurred by the resignation of the school's provost after a series of heated emails with Ambrosetti.

The Bangor Daily News reported that, in 2012, applicant Robert Kennedy resigned from his post as president of the Board of Regents for Higher Education in Connecticut amid controversy surrounding his improper authorization of pay increases, among other claims.

Gregg Lassen was also the subject of a 30-0 unanimous vote of no-confidence at the University of New Orleans in December, according to the New Orleans Advocate, which reported faculty expected him to be named interim president and were concerned about his disengagement and lack of strategy.

When asked if the votes of no-confidence would come into play, El-Rewini said facts of that nature would be addressed during the phase of the search, where references are called and background checks are completed.

Lassen also attempted a gubernatorial bid as a Democrat in Utah in 2000 but, according to the Deseret News, had overlooked the five-year residency requirement and wasn't able to run.

Former Georgia Re­gents University Pre­sident Ricardo Azziz applied as the "founding" president of the institution. He wrote in his cover letter that he decided to step down at the end of the last academic year because he had been brought in with an agenda that precluded him from remaining at the school for a long time and he also was the finalist in two 2014 presidential searches that caused "great consternation."

The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia reported Azizz's resignation was effective June 30, 2015, at which time he would receive educational leave with pay upwards of $675,000 and a one-time $470,000 payment for what the paper quoted as "exemplary service."

Some applicants hold jobs outside the United States; Dennis Templeton works as the dean of the United Arab Emirates University's College of Medicine and Health Sciences in Abu Dhabi, Gurendra Nath Bhardwaj is an associate professor at Niit University in India, Edmund Dawe is a dean at the University of Manitoba and Douglas Freeman is a dean at the University of Saskatchewan, though he did receive degrees from the University of Minnesota.

William Gissy wrote in his cover letter that he returned to the U.S. last May after seven years at KIMEP University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, located in central Asia.

El-Rewini said the committee wouldn't be involved with citizenship requirements if that question arose in the future, adding the diversified group is a positive thing.

"With the Internet now, all of these ads are everywhere from the smallest village in Africa to the largest city in the U.S.," he said.

In attempts to reach Clay, Edelman, Hanley, Mark Kennedy, Naganthan and Varahramyan, all either didn't respond or weren't available.


According to the contract, AGB will be paid $70,000 for services and could be reimbursed for up to $16,750 for travel and other expenses.

The contract states the search firm is expected to "play an active role" in the evaluation and screening process, including reference checks, background investigations and assessing finalists.

AGB facilitated meetings with campus constituents to gather the input used to write a 14-point job description for the advertisement.

AGB consultant Janice Fitzgerald said the ad was printed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, was circulated electronically through email blasts and was sent to higher education groups, such as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, the American Council on Education and Women in Higher Education.

El-Rewini said the public had been invited to nominated candidates and had done so sometimes by contacting him or Grant Shaft, a search committee co-chairman, which they forwarded to AGB.

Materials submitted by Clay, Cramer, Hanley, Matthew Wilson, Lassen and Michael Harris referenced being contacted or nominated for the position in their cover letters.

But the search yielded no current presidents or chancellors, a fact McCormick attributed to North Dakota's open records climate. He said he spoke to a number of people who said it was difficult to put their names out there if they already enjoyed their current job.

Some high-level applicants include Pablo Arenaz, the Texas A&M International University provost and vice president for academic affairs, Ronald Brown, the recently promoted associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of North Texas System, David Dauwalder, former interim president of Woodbury University, and Hanley, the Fisk University provost and the vice president for academic affairs.

The opening also drew applicants from the business world, including Hilary Inyang, president and CEO of Global Education and Infrastructure Services who earned a degree from North Dakota State University, and Kris Jasma, who runs a media firm.

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