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By Cali Owings, Published August 23 2013

State board narrows chancellor candidates list

FARGO – The State Board of Higher Education narrowed the crop of candidates to serve as the interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System from 16 to six.

The board agreed Friday to interview a mix of homegrown candidates, including acting Chancellor Larry Skogen, who also is the president of Bismarck State College; former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness; and Shane Goettle, a former North Dakota Department of Commerce commissioner.

They also will consider three national candidates with backgrounds in higher education: Kendall Blanchard, president of Georgia Southwestern State University; Gordon Davies, former senior adviser for the Lumina Foundation; and Michael Wartell, former chancellor of Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne.

Narcisa Polonio, the executive vice president of the Association of Community College Trustees, who is running the search, guided the board as it selected candidates to move forward in the process.

Polonio sought applications for the position by reaching out to national associations and higher education administrators and also through discussions with University System college presidents.

She described the position’s unique challenges to the candidates looking to lead a system whose controversial chancellor recently was bought out for almost $1 million, ongoing transparency issues and a November 2014 referendum to abolish the chancellor’s position and the State Board of Higher education altogether.

Polonio said they are looking for someone to bring “a level of stability” and unify the system.

During the meeting Friday, members of the board discussed the particular responsibilities of the incoming interim chancellor who will serve between 18 months and two years, or at least until the outcome of the November 2014 vote is known.

They will need to find someone who can “jump into the middle of something and keep it going,” Polonio said.

Board members indicated whoever takes the position will have to rebuild trust in the University System, be an advocate for higher education in the upcoming legislative session, implement and maintain the Pathways to Student Success program and have productive relationships with the college presidents.

Once selected, the interim chancellor also will address an open complaint about University System governance with the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits the 11 schools the board oversees.

Polonio said the board selected a good range of candidates that will allow them to “comparison shop” between individuals with backgrounds in the state, academia and the private sector.

Because of the nature of the interim search, most of the candidates are toward the end of their careers, Polonio said, but they see an opportunity to do meaningful work.

SBHE President Kirsten Diederich said she initially was concerned it would be difficult to find candidates given the University System’s unique circumstances, but that overall she was impressed with the number, quality and diversity of experience of the candidates.

“It’s good to get input from all different areas,” she said. “Having that pool to choose from is advantageous.”

Altogether, 16 applied for the interim position. The six candidates selected Friday will be invited to interview with the board in early September. The board is scheduled to make its decision by Sept. 25.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599