This guest post was written by William J. Brotherton, a UND graduate, a North Dakota and Texas attorney, and an adopted member of the Spirit Lake Sioux. He is the author of Burlington Northern Adventures: Railroading in the Days of the Caboose. He lives in Argyle, Texas.
Now that the University of North Dakota will finally be rid of President Mark Kennedy, after his extended job search that seemed to run the course of his employment, it’s time to think about what to do to get UND back on track to be the shining University on the plains. First and foremost, UND has to hire a homegrown candidate with unbridled enthusiasm and loyalty to not just the University, but to the state as well.
As a UND graduate, and a North Dakota attorney, I have some thoughts on what our new president needs to focus on to rebuild the University and its reputation.
Right off the bat, the new president has to make amends with the University’s most generous donor, Kris Engelstad McGarry and the Engelstad Foundation. Ms. McGarry publicly stated that she would make no more donations to the University while Mr. Kennedy was the president. Now that Mr. Kennedy is heading out the door, it’s time to heal those wounds with not just the Engelstad Foundation, but with other donors who have stopped giving.
Many of those donors could be brought back into the UND family with one simple move: eliminate the Fighting Hawks nickname. That name has done nothing but create division among alumni and every time I speak with UND alumni, the name rolls off the lips of everyone with disdain. When Bob Kelly was president, he forced an election on the UND faithful that ended up producing the Fighting Hawks nickname. The majority just wanted UND to keep the name North Dakota, but Kelly refused to allow that as a choice. It’s time to end this mistake and restore the old name that was used by our sports teams for several years after the Fighting Sioux name was removed.
Mark Kennedy had a goal of turning UND into an online school as part of his strategic planning. While some of that is probably inevitable, why not promote the University as a traditional school that endorses strong American values? Many universities today are alienating their alumni by allowing rogue students and professors to eliminate different points of view and force a groupthink kind of mentality. UND can and should be a university that parents can send their children to for a good solid education without the brainwashing that goes on at so many “elite” schools. The Grand Forks community is a wonderful place to go to school, with beautiful parks and vibrant businesses that continue to grow every year, and a low crime rate that we should tout to prospective students and their parents. Let’s build on our strengths and make UND once again a school that people want to go to and be proud of attending!
UND also has an opportunity to stand out and be different in regard to student loans. With a strong North Dakota economy, UND should encourage its students to not just pile on student loan debt but work while they go to school. I did it; I worked as a brakeman with the Burlington Northern Railroad while finishing up my final year at UND in 1980. The professors were fantastic in working with me and many a time I would take my books with me to study in railroad hotels during layovers. Not everyone can work full time and finish their degree, but they can certainly work part-time jobs to help pay for school rather than burden themselves with horrific debt. UND could be a leader and distinguish itself as a way for students to come out of school with a top-notch degree without mountains of debt and get some valuable work experience in the process.
And let’s talk about improving the mission of UND. For many years, UND had a scholarship program that benefited the state’s tribal members. Funding was accomplished through the sale of Fighting Sioux merchandise but sadly, the program ended. UND should foster closer relationships with the tribes, perhaps starting with a satellite program on one of the reservations. It could be modeled after the occupational therapy program that has a satellite office in Casper, Wyoming.
This is an exciting time for UND, and we have to take advantage in order to pull UND out of its current doldrums and turn it around. Let’s find the best candidate and when we develop the employment contract, let’s make sure that it has a provision that terminates employment without penalty to the University if a president starts looking for another job. UND needs a full-time president, not a distracted one.