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Amy Dalrymple, Published November 17 2009

UPDATED: Group urges diversity in North Dakota college leadership

A group of former female North Dakota college leaders is urging those who choose North Dakota State University’s next president to look beyond white men.

Two former college presidents sent a letter Monday on behalf of the group to Chancellor Bill Goetz and others asking them to recruit women and minorities for leadership spots.

The letter, sent by former Valley City State University President Ellen Chaffee and former Lake Region State College President Sharon Etemad, called for greater diversity on the state Board of Higher Education, as well as college presidencies.

The letter asks for an “explicit commitment” to equal opportunity for women and minorities. It also asks that qualified, competitive women and minorities be included among the finalists for any leadership position.

“We ask you to reopen the search when all the finalists are white men,” the letter states.

The letter also is signed by: Pamela Balch, former Mayville State University president; Sharon Hart, former North Dakota State College of Science president; Donna Thigpen, former Bismarck State College president; and former board members Judy Bott, Patricia Hill, Cynthia Kaldor and Darlene Leinen.

Chaffee said late Monday that the letter was triggered by the search for a new president at NDSU but the concern is broader than that.

“The issue of the disappearing role of women in North Dakota higher education leadership positions is one that’s been of great concern to several of us for the past few years,” said Chaffee, who retired in June 2008.

The North Dakota University System was once a national leader in participation by women, the letter reads.

The North Dakota Women's Network sent a similar letter to Goetz earlier this month.

The letter, signed by Executive Director Renee Stromme, asked Goetz to select a search committee and a search consultant who would be committed to building diversity.

Recently, about half of the college and university presidents and state Board of Higher Education members were women.

Today, leaders of all 11 campuses are men. The board appointed white men to the past six presidential vacancies, the letter states.

The board – which hires presidents – has two female members, but one is in her final year of service and the other is a student serving a one-year term.

Gov. John Hoeven, who also is addressed on the letter, has not appointed a female non-student member to the board for seven years, the letter states.

Chaffee said the group is not asking that women or minorities receive special preference, but rather that women and minorities are recruited and encouraged to apply.

“It’s going to take some kind of message to assure women and minorities that they will be given serious consideration,” Chaffee said. “Because there’s an apparent preference for men based on the record.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590