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Ed Schafer

Former Gov. Ed Schafer stands in front of the legislative wing at the state Capitol in Bismarck in 2011.

Former North Dakota Republican Gov. Ed Schafer was selected Tuesday as interim president of University of North Dakota by the State Board of Higher Education.

The nomination of Schafer, 69, was forwarded to the board by Chancellor Mark Hagerott. The eight-member board voted unanimously in favor of Schafer over the other finalist for the role, UND Provost Thomas DiLorenzo.

Hagerott was also authorized to negotiate Schafer’s contract terms.

Schafer was elected governor in 1992 and served two terms. In 2008, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as United States Secretary of Agriculture, serving until 2009.

“I obviously am pleased and humbled to be considered and chosen,” said Schafer, adding he plans on getting to Grand Forks soon and begin working with UND President Robert Kelley on the transition. Kelley is retiring Jan. 14; he came to UND in July 2008.

Hagerott said Schafer’s past experience on the state and national level would be an asset to the university as a search for a new president commences. He said advertisements for the position will be posted within days and the tentative timeline is to have a permanent president named and in place by July 1.

Tuesday’s decision wasn’t without debate. Board Staff Advisor Eric Murphy said he’d received dozens of emails from faculty members and some senior campus officials concerned about both DiLorenzo and Schafer.

“The faculty voice is in opposition to both these candidates,” Murphy said.

He said, in Schafer’s case, the issue from faculty was a lack of extensive higher education experience at a research university.

For DiLorenzo, Murphy said the concern was transparency and trust between his office and staff as reported in previous Grand Forks Herald stories since his arrival in 2013.

“There was a vacuum as to the rationale,” Murphy said.

Hagerott defended the scope of the search. He said the resumes of all university vice presidents were among those reviewed.

“It was a fairly wide aperture,” Hagerott said.

Hagerott said his rationale was to provide continuity at UND among senior staff during the interim.

Schafer acknowledged the faculty concerns over level of experience in higher education as legitimate. He teaches an agricultural leadership course at North Dakota State University.

“They’re used to operating in an arena with people with life experience in that arena,” he said.

On the other hand in his roles as governor and in Washington, D.C., he came in and was able to quickly get up to speed and succeed, he said.

“The learning curve is getting to know the capability of the team. That’s just perfect for me,” said Schafer, who earned his bachelor’s degree from UND and his master's degree in business administration from the University of Denver.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said he expects Schafer and Kelley to meet soon to hash out details of the transition.

“I think it’s going to work out very successfully. We’re very proud of Gov. Schafer and to have an alumnus of his caliber coming back,” Johnson said.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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