The search begins: Meetings kick off to find president for Dickinson State

The search for the new president of Dickinson State University has begun. Larry Skogen, the interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System, and Terry Hjelmstad, the chair of the State Board of Higher Education, met with students, staff,...

Press Photo by Andrew Brown North Dakota University System interim chancellor Larry Skogen takes questions Wednesday at Dickinson State University’s Beck Auditorium while discussing how the school will replace retiring President D.C. Coston.

The search for the new president of Dickinson State University has begun.
Larry Skogen, the interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System, and Terry Hjelmstad, the chair of the State Board of Higher Education, met with students, staff, alumni and community members Wednesday at Beck Auditorium to discuss the search for the new president.
The informational meetings come less than a week after D.C. Coston, the current DSU President, announced he would be stepping down.
Coston, who has been DSU’s president since August 2011, has led the university out of accreditation problems and held the school together as the Dickinson State University Foundation, the nonprofit that provides scholarships to students, has struggled through financial and management problems.
At the numerous meetings Wednesday, Skogen led the conversation, thanking Coston for his service and questioning those in attendance about what type of person they would like their next president to be.
“I’d like to thank Dr. Coston for his years of service here,” Skogen said. “We really appreciate him taking the university through a tough time.”
At the afternoon meeting, which was held for faculty and students, several dozen people listened to Skogen outline the university system’s process for the upcoming presidential search. He also provided input on what qualities the next university leader should have. Coston was not present at that meeting.
Many in the crowd said the next president should be accessible, engaging, trustworthy, responsible and, above all, a person of integrity.
“We know integrity is important, and we have heard that in spades,” Skogen said.
Karen Nelson, who worked for DSU for 15 years and is currently assisting the university in its accreditation review, said she wanted to make sure that the next president understood the recent history of the university so they can build upon the school’s strengths and not be torn down by its past.
“You need to know the history of the institution,” Nelson said, adding that she believes DSU has come a long way in the past couple years.
Skogen recognized the problems that have damaged the university in the past, but said it was important for the university to look to the future.
“You guys have been through the briar patch a couple times. You can’t sugar coat that,” Skogen said, adding that if you look back too much, you risk straining your neck.
Skogen, who will be stepping down as the interim chancellor in the coming months as the university system hires its chancellor, said the search for the next DSU president was important for him professionally and personally.
“I am emotionally tied to this search, because this is my school,” Skogen said.
As an alumnus of DSU, Skogen said he wants to see the university thrive and continue to serve students for decades to come.
“I am always proud that I am from Dickinson State,” Skogen said. “This university is going to be around for a long, long time.”
While Skogen said he would like to see a new president at DSU before he steps down as interim chancellor, he said the process to find Coston’s replacement could take months.
“This project will not nearly be finished by the time I leave,” Skogen said.
The next two steps in the search for a president includes organizing a search committee and hiring an outside consultant to help recruit the best candidates available, Skogen said.
“We’re trying to move on this as quickly as possible,” Skogen said. “We’re already started the search process today with these listening sessions.”
Skogen said it was important to bring in a hiring consultant to make sure the search committee, which will include staff, student, alumni and community representatives, can choose from the best candidates.
Nathaniel Easton, the president of the DSU Student Senate, said he was encouraged by his discussions with Skogen and the quick response by the State Board of Higher Education.
Easton said it was heartening to know that the students, the staff and members of the community would all have a voice in choosing the next leader of the university.
“I’m excited the state board got here so quickly and got the ball rolling,” Easton said.
Hjelmstad said the state board recognizes the importance of DSU to western North Dakota and people as far away as Montana and Wyoming.
“We hope the new president understands the importance of the university to the region and the state,” Hjelmstad said.

Brown is a regional reporter for The Dickinson Press. Contact him at 701-456-1206 and follow him on Twitter at Andy_Ed_Brown.

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