GRAND FORKS — Current and former university leaders say people should hit the pause button before making judgment about the pared-down field of candidates vying to become the University of North Dakota's next president.

The names of the final six were revealed earlier this week. The candidates have a wide range of experience, from college deans to former college presidents.

Nick Hacker, chairman for the State Board of Higher Education, said the board is “appreciative of the work of the committee that we think is top notch.”

“We look forward to the candidates visiting campus and hearing the campus feedback and input and moving on to the final stages of the search process,” Hacker said.

The candidates are as follows:

  • Andrew Armacost, former dean of the faculty at the United States Air Force Academy.

  • Robert Marley, professor of engineering management and former provost at Missouri University of Science and Technology. He also has experience at Montana State University.

  • Laurie Stenberg Nichols, interim president of Black Hills State University and former University of Wyoming president. She also has experience as a high-ranking administrator at South Dakota State University.

  • David Rosowsky, professor of civil and environmental engineering, concluded six years of service as provost and senior vice president at the University of Vermont in May 2019.

  • Chuck Staben, who served as president of the University of Idaho from March 2014 to June 2019. Prior to UI, Staben was provost at the University of South Dakota for five years.

  • Paul Tikalsky, dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at Oklahoma State University.

Staben, Nichols and Rosowsky have had issues on their way to becoming a UND finalist.

The respective higher education boards in Idaho and Wyoming did not renew the contracts for Staben and Nichols this year. Both finished their terms in June. Rosowsky had a vote of no-confidence in April 2018 as provost at the University of Vermont. He stepped down this spring to allow the new university president there to form his own leadership team, but he remains at the University of Vermont as a faculty member.

UND search committee co-chair Denny Elbert said earlier this week that the six candidates have been thoroughly vetted.

“I think the committee as a whole was well aware of those background circumstances,” he said. “They were well vetted during the application process and then when we went through the Skype interviews as well. So I think, speaking on behalf of the committee, we think that we’re comfortable with where we are. We also know what we know, so I’m sure there will be further review and discussion and vetting of all the candidates to make sure we get the right one.”

While some issues exist with some of the candidates, former UND interim president and former Gov. Ed Schafer cautioned people from making quick judgments.

“Nobody that's reacting, right now, knows anything about the details of any of the six people,” he said. “It's always good to kind of get a baseline or collect the information and then make the judgment.”

While he isn’t involved with the search committee, Schafer said he knows the people on the committee and knows that the candidate issues were thoroughly vetted first. Schafer noted it’s important for people to really dig into the details of why the presidents’ contracts were not renewed before jumping to conclusions. Additionally, he said a vote of no-confidence in the “midst of a budget crisis is certainly understandable.”

Jeff VanLooy, vice chair of UND’s University Senate, also is refraining from forming an early opinion.

“I think we'd have to see what it was about,” VanLooy said. “A lot of times the issue is the devil’s in the details.”

The candidates do not have direct ties to UND or North Dakota. In the early stages of the search, many attendees at public meetings said they wanted a candidate who had regional ties.

Schafer said it’s not unusual to not have North Dakota candidates for the job because “you don’t have a whole lot of North Dakotans that have pursued higher administrations in the universities.”

“I don't think that's an issue,” he said. “I think it's more you want to make sure you have somebody that that is comfortable with and understands the North Dakota culture. And course, we always think you have to grow up in North Dakota to do that, but it's not always the case.”

During early meetings, the search committee contemplated encouraging or even requiring that the candidates have a direct tie to the state. However, the group ultimately chose to drop the requirement in order to open the candidate pool further. In the end, 61 applications were filed for the job.

“I’m hoping that the search committee really digs into that personality and character that's going to fit in Grand Forks at the university and in our state,” Schafer said.

The six candidates are set to visit the UND campus in the coming weeks, beginning Nov. 12. Each will spend about two days on campus speaking to students, faculty, staff and community members. The schedule for those visits has not been released.

The search committee will meet Friday, Nov. 22, to select at least three finalists. Those finalists will meet with the State Board of Higher Education on Tuesday, Dec. 3, and UND’s new president is expected to be named that day.

The next president, who will replace Mark Kennedy, likely will be announced in early December. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been serving as interim president since mid-June.