|Candidate Smith says UND is the ideal place|
UND is the ideal place, said Dr. Bruce Smith, dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, president/CEO of the UND Aerospace Foundation, and a candidate for the UND presidency, in his public talk Jan. 22.
Smith began his talk by speaking of his North Dakota roots, beginning in the 1800s when his great-grandparents settled in Leeds. Smith grew up in St. Louis Park, Minn., a blue-collar suburb of Minneapolis, where his father was a mechanic and his mother a homemaker. He returned to North Dakota when he was recruited by UND to play football.
“UND was a great opportunity,” Smith said. “I played football, got a great education, and I was part of a great campus environment.” Smith said that when he arrived, the football coach didn’t allow freshmen to have cars, and that forced him to get involved in what makes a university great. “I took classes in poetry, art, theater, music, and I was a math major,” he said. “I received a broad education in the liberal arts. It was all part of the total experience.
“I’m indebted to UND, and that’s why I came back,” Smith said. “UND is the ideal place to be.” The most important job as president, Smith said, “would be to continue keeping UND the ideal place.” Smith said that if he were named president, he would not make wholesale changes, and there would be a transition to a different leadership and management style.
“I would continue the path to excellence,” Smith said, regarding his priorities.
He then answered questions from the audience, summarized below.
His leadership and management style have been honed throughout his career. He’s experienced good leadership and bad, and said he has conducted a careful study of it. The most successful leaders, he said, create an expectation of empowerment. They hire good people, provide resources, and remove impediments to success. “The formula works well,” he said, adding that, as in football and the military, he depends on people to do their jobs. His management style, he said, is fairly calm, and sometimes people misread that because he can make hard tasks look easy. “I let go of the things I can’t control,” he said, “and move forward to make good decisions about the future. My responsibility is to help people do their jobs.”
Smith said the research enterprise is very valuable, and it’s difficult to set a goal such as reaching the top 100 research universities, since others are striving for the same goal. He would set his sights on more focused research. High monetary value research, he said, may not be the best for UND. For example, the Center of Excellence in General Aviation, a proposal put forward by the FAA, might be more helpful to faculty, offering an opportunity to excel, publish, and move along the promotion and tenure track. “I would be more selective,” he said, “about the quality of the research and what it does for the University. That’s not to say that the research we’re doing here isn’t important. It’s phenomenal and gives us a tremendous boost in prestige.”
When asked what cuts he would make were they to become necessary, Smith said that one advantage to being an internal candidate is knowledge, but that he would not make presumptions. “I would be evolutionary, not revolutionary.” His goal would be to maintain excellence and move to forestall cuts. “We need to increase revenue,” he said, and he would work to increase enrollment before classes begin in the fall, which could prevent cuts.
Regarding outsourcing of services, Smith said that when he came here, the campus environment was ideal, as were services and staff. “The students are the most important group on campus,” he said. “Faculty and staff touch students. We need to have a staff that’s committed, and they play an important role.” For example, he said, sometimes football practice ran late, and the dining center stayed open for them. “They were dedicated to students,” he said. “That’s part of what makes the University what it is.” Smith said he’s given away his extension ladder and has “outsourced” roof climbing. “Sometimes we don’t have the expertise, the job is dangerous, we don’t do something well, or it isn’t part of our core business.” That could be outsourced, he said. “But we don’t outsource anything that touches students.”
Student support services, such as the counseling center, are invaluable, Smith said. For example, in October, when we lost two pilots, the Odegard School was surrounded and supported as a community. “We need that role,” he said, “as part of the healing process and to help students. We can’t do without it.”
When asked about his plan for the athletic department over the next five years, Smith said he has a “quick start” plan. First, we need an athletic director, and we need to deal with the Fighting Sioux logo and nickname issue, which he said is the most contentious issue on campus. He said he’s the only presidential candidate to have taken a stand on the issue, and that it needs to be resolved soon. The possibility of finding a middle ground is shrinking, and if no middle ground can be found, he thinks the logo and name should be respectfully retired. He would work to minimize the backlash, and said that his background as an athlete would grant him credibility in the effort. UND is on a five-year track to move to Division I, and he was part of the planning committee. He said the move is carefully planned, a funding plan is in place, and the move is well thought out. “It just needs to be implemented.”
In answer to a question about how he would move forward should the nickname and logo be retired, Smith replied that he would meet with Leigh Jeanotte (director of American Indian Student Services) and tribal leaders, and continue developing programs such as Native Americans in Aviation. Regarding a backlash and/or student behavior problems, “It won’t happen here. I won’t allow it to happen.”
Smith cited U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy’s 2006 commencement address about keeping college affordable, and said he would work for assistance from the federal government for low-interest loans and grants. He would also work to increase enrollment. “That would help greatly,” he said. “When more students share increased costs, those costs go down.” Overall, he said, UND tuition is comparatively low, and he would do all he could to keep it there. He would seek revenue from other sources, increase economic development, fundraising, and endowment efforts, and use some nontraditional methods to continue delivering the best education possible while keeping costs down.
Technology and distance learning are important and need to be considered for expansion, Smith said, citing the Odegard School’s space studies program, which is mostly delivered via distance education. He said that those students mostly work in the military or in space agencies in the U.S. and all over the world, and education is key to their careers. The Legislature’s Higher Education Roundtable stressed distance learning, he said, to reach nontraditional students. He would make it a priority to increase outreach.
Smith has not held a position as a provost or vice president, but said the Odegard School is unique compared to traditional colleges. “We have our own airport, foundation, student services, recruiting, financial aid, graduate and undergraduate programs,” he said, adding that the complexity of the school is equivalent to that of being president of a small community college or other small school. In response to a second part of the question, Smith said he led the search committee that hired Provost Greg Weisenstein, who has done an excellent job, and that he and the vice presidents could work together. “We have good leadership,” he said. “My leadership style is more empowering, and will provide opportunity, removing impediments to success. It can be a seamless transition.”
When asked what he learned when he became aerospace dean, Smith introduced Diane Odegard, widow of John, who founded of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences and succumbed to cancer while serving as dean. He called her “second first lady” of the aerospace school, and said her commitment to the school is phenomenal. “John kind of left us in the lurch,” he said. “We all expected him to pull through and recover as he had done before.” There was not much of a succession plan, and he said they’ve worked to ensure that most of John’s dreams have come true. “And he had some wild dreams,” Smith said to laughter. He said that John had left a strong foundation of people and spirit, “like a bonfire in embers. My job was to stoke that fire.” He said people were ready to move forward. “They picked up the ball and ran with it, and did a great job. My job was to step up and lead. I provided the resources, removed the impediments, and got out of the way.”
Regarding positive macro trends in higher education, Smith said he’d like to emulate larger schools, which have used large endowments to offer free and reduced tuition to students. He said he would like to leverage one-time funds from the state legislature to decrease the cost of education. He would also work with Tim O’Keefe of the Alumni Association and Foundation on the capital campaign, building on the earlier work of his predecessor, Earl Strinden.
One questioner asked Smith what he learned from his experiences in the Air Force and Delta Airlines. Smith replied that he graduated from UND in 1969 with a private pilot’s license. “Two months later I was sitting in the cockpit of a twin-engine jet,” he said. He flew six years, and it was a labor of love. He taught at the Air Force Academy, and then moved to Delta. “I saw things that I liked and disliked,” he said. “I had a mental log. If I became a leader, I know what I would and wouldn’t do.” The best lesson came from Delta, he said, when they decided to forgo their tradition of Southern hospitality to increase stock prices. “They started struggling.” He said he learned to “cherish the brand, and don’t sacrifice it for things that are less important. I’ve seen a lot of leadership styles, and what you see here is what I stand for.”
When asked how UND would change in two years if he were president, Smith joked that was an accelerated schedule, and that he has a five-year plan. In two years, given present conditions, Smith said that we might see a different group of vice presidents. “Not that I’m rushing people into retirement,” he said, but that some have indicated they’re ready to step back. He said that structurally, he would resist preconceived notions. “Some perceptions could be wrong,” he said, and that he would think carefully about making changes. In five years, he said, we would see major changes. For example, he said, there is a long-range plan to upgrade athletic facilities. “UND would still be the ideal place, and we would be good stewards with more students and continuing to increase graduate students,” he said.
Smith closed his talk by saying that it would be a tremendous advantage to UND to have an internal candidate as president. There is a transition plan at the Odegard School, and people are ready to step up. That means, he said, he could implement a quick start plan before July 1, working on athletics, the logo issue, and visiting with students, alumni, members of the State Board of Higher Education, other state universities, the legislature, governor, and congressional delegation, among others, so he could hit the ground running on July 1. “I already know a lot of these people,” he said. “I work with them on committees and boards, and I can start doing what needs to be done. There’s no need to wait until July 1.”
Smith then thanked people for attending. “The attendance is symbolic of how many people care for this place,” he said.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 777-3621