As Mark Kennedy’s final days as UND president inch closer, rumors about who will fill the role of interim president have begun to circulate.
Don Morton, chair of the State Board of Higher Education, has said the board has a “diverse list of possible candidates” for interim president. The topic is expected to come up at the next full board meeting on May 30.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott told the Herald he has a running list of potential candidates in his head, but he does not have a formal, written list at this point.
“I’ve spoken with several people and people have offered names up,” Hagerott said.
Who is on that list is not publicly, or officially, known. Kennedy will be leaving UND on June 15 after just under three years at the university. He is set to take over as president of the University of Colorado system on July 1, where he will oversee four campuses.
At least one person rumored for the job already has seemingly taken his hat out of the ring.
Former Gov. Ed Schafer, who served as interim president at UND before Kennedy was hired, recently told Forum News Service blogger Rob Port that while there has been “lots of contact” from UND, he and his wife, Nancy, are in a “different place in our lives.”
Steve Shirley’s name has also been circulating around Grand Forks in recent weeks. Shirley, who is currently president at Minot State University, was among the final contenders when Kennedy was hired in 2016. Shirley’s secretary said he was traveling this week. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen also has been brought up as a potential full-time replacement for Kennedy. Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, told the Herald he believes Skogen would be a great fit at UND.
“He does a lot of things right, but one thing that he does exceptionally well is he’s a people person and he cares about every person on his team, his staff,” Martinson said.
In addition to being president at Bismarck State, Skogen served as interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System for about two years, from 2013 to 2015.
However, Skogen told the Herald he would not be interested in the position of interim UND president.
“I’m very happy where I’m at at Bismarck State,” Skogen said. “So no, I would certainly not throw my hat in.”
The name of Mary Wakefield has been mentioned. Wakefield, a Devils Lake native and current Grand Forks resident, served in the Obama administration as acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services from 2015 to 2017, and as head of the Health Resources and Services Administration from 2009 to 2015. Multiple attempts to speak with Wakefield this week were not successful.
Former UND aerospace Dean Bruce Smith also has been discussed as a potential interim president.
The Herald recently published a letter to the editor by Kim Szondy Higgs, who suggests Smith should be a candidate for the job.
“The person I would recommend to the board and chancellor is someone who is homegrown and has a solid academic background. A UND graduate, played football, has a business acumen background, is a published author, isn't a politician, and is someone who loves UND,” she wrote. “The person I would recommend is Bruce Smith.”
Smith told the Herald he would consider coming out of retirement to fill the interim role, but it would be dependent upon the goals and outlooks of North Dakota University System.
“I would be willing to come out of retirement to help UND in some form or fashion,” he said.
Robert Boyd, former UND vice president for student and outreach services, also has been suggested as a potential interim or permanent replacement for Kennedy. Boyd spent more than three decades at UND.
During his time on campus, Boyd was a “go-to” leader for UND presidents, according to a 2010 press release from UND. He also played a critical role at the university after the 1997 flood.
Boyd declined to comment for this report.