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Cali Owings, Published October 05 2013

MSUM president reflects on upcoming retirement

MOORHEAD – As 55 years of Minnesota State University Moorhead leadership took the stage a week ago to reflect on the school’s triumphs and challenges, current President Edna Szymanski was biting her tongue.

She said she took a different approach during that reflective discussion because she’s working to turn the school’s eyes forward to the next president.

“You can always think things were better in the past,” she said. “But unless we have turned all of our eyes forward, it is going to be difficult for us to not trip over ourselves.”

For Szymanski, who will retire at the end of June, the next year is about transferring relationships and distancing herself from the school she’s led for the past five years.

She said that expectation of distance is different now from when her predecessors retired.

“I intend to step very much aside. To be neither seen nor heard lest there be any shadow over the new person,” she said.

MSUM has only had 10 presidents in its 125-year history, and those rare transitions can be hard.

To do it right, Szymanski is seeking guidance from congregations and faith leaders who deal with similar issues during pastoral transitions.

It’s similar because pastors and presidents have close relationships within a community, she said.

She and the school’s executive leadership will meet on Monday with one of the campus chaplains to learn how “one begins to turn the eyes of the institution forward to the next person.”

She’s seeking guidance on how to set the expectation that she won’t be at Dragon football games or the school’s Fourth of July celebration.

“It’s not because I don’t love the institution,” she said. “It’s because today presidents are expected to create distance.”

Removed from replacement

Szymanski will also be far-removed from finding her replacement. The presidential search will be conducted by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system office.

The search committee, headed by Richard Hanson, president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, met this week to kick off the process.

MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone also met Tuesday with students, staff, faculty and members of the public to gauge the community’s vision for its next president.

The search committee will solicit nominations, recruit candidates and interview applicants before finalists are made public in the spring. Rosenstone said much of the process is done in private to protect candidates’ jobs at other institutions where many are high-ranking officials.

When the finalists are named, they’ll be brought to campus for more interviews and to get a feel for the school.

Szymanski said she plans to be elsewhere when the finalists visit campus so the community can focus on them.

The candidates will also interview with members MnSCU’s Board of Trustees before the chancellor makes his recommendation. Rosenstone said he tentatively plans to give the board his recommendation in April.

Until then, Szymanski will be tying up loose ends to leave the school in the best possible shape for the next president.

“No matter how good of a job I do leaving this place, I am going to leave some challenges,” she said.

“I do not want anybody to feel that they are being compared to me or that they can’t do what they need to do because I am nearby.”

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