UND Should Absolutely Consider Heidi Heitkamp for President


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who is seeking re-election in November, in Rutland, N.D., Oct. 7, 2018. In North Dakota and other farm states, the partisan divide over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh has nationalized the fight for the Senate, elating Republicans and worrying Democrats. (Annie Flanagan/The New York Times)

One way or another, UND President Mark Kennedy is gone.

“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” is a phrase I’m sure you’re familiar with if you’ve ever stayed until closing time at a bar. That’s pretty much where Kennedy is at. He may or may not get a new job in Colorado – he’s now seems to have the state’s governor as an opponent – but it’s pretty clear he can’t stay in North Dakota.

That bridge has been burned. My advice is to let Kennedy’s current contract, which expires in June of 2020, expire while UND searches for a new leader.

The question is, who should that new leader be?

Recently my colleague Mike McFeely suggested former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp.

I suspect McFeely, as is often the case, wasn’t being serious. Still he chanced upon a suggestion worth taking seriously, even if he was just trying to troll North Dakota’s right-of-center public.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Heitkamp fits the mold of what we need at UND. Someone with North Dakota roots. Someone with some credibility built up with the public.[/mks_pullquote]

The role of campus president shouldn’t be an ideological one. It has disappointed me that so much of the opposition to Kennedy in Colorado has to do with his politics as a former Republican member of Congress. His poor job performance as a university president is the much more pertinent avenue for criticism.

Regardless, Heitkamp’s politics shouldn’t matter either. She could be a very effective leader for the University of North Dakota. If she’d be willing to take the job.

That’s no sure thing, of course. The salary for the UND gig is going to be around $350,000 per year, and Heitkamp is likely making far more than that in the private sector as a former Senator. She’s got a gig as a contributor at CNBC, and she’s taken a position hawking President Trump’s NAFTA-replacing trade deal (which she was lukewarm for, once upon a time) for a political action group.

I’m certain she has a lot of other opportunities available to her as well.

There are also fair questions to ask about Heitkamp’s competence as an organizational leader. Her re-election campaign pretty much fell apart down the stretch in 2018, plagued with numerous mistakes not the least of which was the accidental outing of sexual assault victims.

Heitkamp still hasn’t explained to the public how that one happened, by the way.

If the former Senator couldn’t manage a political campaign all that well, could she manage a large institution like UND?

Maybe she could.

I’d be willing to give her a shot, if the choice were up to me.

I’m not saying Heitkamp should get the job, mind you. The folks at UND should cast a wide net and bring in a lot of potential candidates. But Heitkamp fits the mold for what we need at UND.

Someone with North Dakota roots. Someone with some credibility built up with the public.

She could be the right choice.