Succession of college presidents high on board leader's list

FARGO (AP) — One of the first tasks facing the North Dakota Board of Higher Education in Nick Hacker’s term as chairman is finding a new president at the University of North Dakota. Hacker would rather the process not turn into a major ordeal. Hacker, a former Republican state senator, said one of his goals as board leader will be to help address the turnover of school presidents. The search for a new UND president is the fifth since Hacker was named to the board in 2015 and almost all of them have been time-consuming. “Do we always have to need a big search?” Hacker asked in a phone interview Monday, his first official day as board chairman. “Succession planning for presidents is a real challenge. It’s something we desperately need to be doing.” The university system announced a search committee last week to find a replacement for UND’s Mark Kennedy, who left for the University of Colorado after three years. Dr. Joshua Wynn, dean of the UND medical school since 2010, has been serving as interim president. Hacker said the state also needs to work at retaining faculty and staff. He said that higher education, like the rest of the state, is facing a workforce shortage and “it’s vitally important” to retain professors and others. “We need to ensure we are doing everything we can to build the right culture,” Hacker said. “We want to see valuable faculty and staff stay rather than, for instance, moving from Williston State College to take a job in the oil patch.” Hacker has been the president of the North Dakota Guaranty and Title Co. in Bismarck for four years. He runs the state’s largest title insurance and real estate closing company with 100 employees in 10 locations. A University of North Dakota graduate, Hacker made history in 2004 by becoming the youngest person selected to the state senate, out of Grand Forks. He said that’s where he got his passion to serve higher education. He also understands the position comes with its share of controversy, including last week’s meeting when the board was split over the significance of a negative audit review at the North Dakota State College of Science. The board has eight voting members. “I think the challenge for the board is we like to be talked about in the news,” Hacker said. “But the really good things that are happening in higher ed are happening at the campus level.”