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Archie Ingersoll, Published April 23 2014

MSUM's newly named president eager to take university to ‘next level of greatness’

MOORHEAD – As the newly named president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, Anne Blackhurst says she will work tirelessly to help create a culture of passion and pride in MSUM.

“I really see my role as president as setting the tone and being the face of the university,” said Blackhurst, MSUM’s current provost and senior vice president for academic affairs who was named to the top spot on Wednesday. “I just can’t think of anything more meaningful than helping bring the university to the next level of greatness.”

Blackhurst, who starts July 1, will be the 11th president of the school that was founded in 1888. She’ll succeed Edna Szymanski, who has served as MSUM president since 2008 and will retire at the end of June.

Blackhurst, 55, praised Szymanski for confronting MSUM’s multimillion-dollar budget deficit rather than leaving that task for the next president. To resolve the shortfall, the school is losing about 40 faculty members to retirements, layoffs and cutbacks.

Blackhurst said MSUM is now positioned to move past its budget woes.

“The MSUM I see is not that institution in crisis. It’s not that decimated university that’s been described in some media accounts,” she said. “It’s a university filled with faculty and staff who are absolutely devoted to students and student learning.”

The school’s deficit is tied to declining enrollment. Since 2009, enrollment at the college has dropped by 11.4 percent; about 6,620 students enrolled in the fall.

To boost enrollment, Blackhurst said, the school has to create a campus culture of passion and pride that leads to students recommending the college to others. “What we absolutely don’t want to do is just admit students who … we know have a low probability of success just to balance our budget,” she said.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees met Wednesday in St. Paul and approved Blackhurst for the job. Before the final decision was made, Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told board members that Blackhurst was the obvious choice. He said he had received several comments from students, staff and faculty urging him to endorse her.

“Anne is the best person for the job,” Rosenstone said, reading from one comment. “She knows what we need and has a plan to get us there.”

Blackhurst was one of three finalists for the position. The other two were candidates from outside MSUM: Carlos Vargas-Aburto, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania’s provost and vice president for academic and student affairs; and Sam Minner, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Radford (Va.) University. Minner withdrew his application earlier this month.

As part of the selection process, Blackhurst gave a public presentation April 1. She told the crowd that her role as provost, the school’s second in command, put her somewhat in the shadows of the current president, but she was confident she could lead the school.

“I can step out of those shadows,” she said in her speech. “I can speak passionately about the university. I can be bold and audacious when I need to be.”

Before taking the provost job at MSUM, Blackhurst spent 17 years at Minnesota State University Mankato. Her roles included professor in the Department of Counseling and Student Personnel, dean of graduate studies and research and, most recently, acting vice president for academic and student affairs.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boise State University, master’s degree in counseling from the College of Idaho in Caldwell and a doctorate in college student personnel from Ohio University in Athens.

Kevin Struxness, MSUM’s student body president who’s worked with Blackhurst, described her as an administrator who values student input on decisions.

“She basically defines collaboration and shared governance,” he said. “I know her leadership style is just very inspiring.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734

Meet MSUM’s next president

A reception for Anne Blackhurst will be held at 1 p.m. Monday in MSUM's Comstock Memorial Ballroom.