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Process to select new director for NDSU extension center underway

A season of change is coming to the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center in Dickinson -- and much like winter in North Dakota, it could be a rather long season as the university undertakes the slow process of filling the vacate...

The Dickinson Research Extension Center headquarters is shown at 1041 State Avenue North. Linda Sailer / The Dickinson Press
The Dickinson Research Extension Center headquarters is shown at 1041 State Avenue North. Linda Sailer / The Dickinson Press

A season of change is coming to the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center in Dickinson - and much like winter in North Dakota, it could be a rather long season as the university undertakes the slow process of filling the vacated directorship of the center following the departure of Kris Ringwall from the role.

Acting Director Tim Faller recalled Ringwall's great teaching ability over his 20 years in the position.

"He was a good communicator, he worked well at teaching," Faller said. "This isn't a teaching role, but if you work with producers, we still have to have a teaching component to describe what might be the outcome for that person, the personal element. I think that's where he will probably be missed."

With the director position now vacated, the university undergoes a lengthy process of evaluating the needs of the extension center, determining what direction they would like it to go in, and in the meantime keeping the lights on and the bills paid. To this end, Faller is filling in until an interim director can be found - a process which should be finished after the new year.

"Based on everything I know, we should have an answer for the press in January," Faller said. "I believe the search is closed now. We have four names and they are just starting scheduling for the interview process ... there's holidays in there ... that extends it a bit."

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Those four names all come from within the NDSU system, which could be from around the state, as far out as Fargo or as close to home as Dickinson.

"Those candidates are interviewed by a regular search committee and then they forward those names to a search committee," Faller said. "The staff gets a chance to visit with them and they may make their own recommendations to the administration. It's a process."

There's some variability to what form the interim position may take.

"The university in general does not just essentially plant people, even interims," Faller said. "They have a process and the process is a lot of times an internal search, not worldwide. People can apply to be the interim director, there can be all kinds of scenarios for interim - he could be part-time, he could be full-time."

Once the interim is in place, that individual will perform evaluations of the needs of the extension center and helping craft the job description for the new permanent director. This process has no set time table - an interim could serve two months, two years or however long is needed, Faller said.

In some cases, the interim is not a consideration to become the permanent director, but other times they can, with public support, assume the permanent role. At this time, Faller said he doesn't think the interim position's job description excludes that possibility - though it should be noted that, while the interim director is sought out internally, the permanent directorship is a nationwide search.
"It can be both ways, and that is usually established in the initial criteria for the selection of the interim director," Faller said. "I believe in this case, unless it's changed, the interim could, provided he's doing everything and getting some support and direction and people are confident ... the public could then say 'we'd like you to consider making this a permanent decision.'"

Fortunately for the extension center's ongoing research projects - there are still two ongoing - changes in leadership won't impact them. The NDSU system has all projects pre-approved with budgets and timetables ahead of time, with annual reports expected to track what is being learned. The current projects, Faller said, have a couple years left on them, which makes the timing ideal for a directional shift.

"It's really a good timing now, as those projects are winding down, to have someone come in and ask 'what should be the next step?'" Faller said.

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As the university is taxpayer funded, it is important, Faller said, that these processes be transparent and that ultimately the best projects and people are chosen to make the most public good.

He also had words of praise to share for the staff of the extension center.

"As you step in and you get to meet the people who work here and are in the trenches, there's a good and a committed group of people here working at the Dickinson Extension Center that I think will be assets to the interim as he comes here to speed along that process in evaluating the next step for this place," Faller said.

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