Last two candidates speak in public forum

Cody Boyer

The remaining two candidates for the NMU presidential position spoke over the last week, wrapping up a series of public forums before a new president is chosen.

Greg Cant, founding dean of the Offutt School of Business and Robert J. Johnson chairman in economics and business administration at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., traveled to Marquette to speak to the community on Thursday, April 10.

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On Tuesday, April 15, Cynthia Pemberton, provost and vice president for academic affairs and professor of education at Dickinson State University in Dickinson, N.D. presented to the community after inclement weather postponed the event from its original date.

Sook Wilkinson, chairwoman of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC), said the next step lies with the NMU Board of Trustees now that all candidates have spoken at the university.

“It will be a hard decision,” Wilkinson said. “Really, the biggest homework is for the board to become clearer about what the needs are. If our No. 1 priority is to raise funds, for example, then we need to look at the candidate background to focus there. If it is the academic programs we are building or defining the distinctive programs, they need to look again at the candidates’ backgrounds to see who will offer that at this particular time.”

Both candidates spoke at 4 p.m. in the Peter White Lounge in NMU’s University Center, giving a five-to-seven minute introductory presentation before opening the floor to public question and comment.

Rick Popp, chairman of the NMU Board of Trustees, said the attendance to all four presentations was deeply appreciated by the board and influential to the process.

“It means so much to the whole process that [everyone] gets to be involved and get to hear directly from the candidates,” Popp said. “Over the next several days, we will begin our decision making process. We will then announce when we are going to have a formal vote and it’s a public process. We’ll have the vote in public. There’s an 18-hour requirement but we’ll give more time than that.”

When asked about her decision to apply for NMU’s presidency, Pemberton said the chance to bring her knowledge from Dickinson State University to NMU’s table attracted her to apply.

“I’m going to describe [NMU’s presidential opening] and label it as three main areas: quality of place, fit and positioning,” Pemberton said. “The fundamental answer to that is because this opportunity is available now. Five years from now, it may not be. Because of the importance of those pieces in terms of quality of place, fit and positioning, I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to be able to come and visit with you about the possibility of a leadership and a future we might create.”

Cant said one of the reasons he is attracted to NMU is a reason behind how the institution currently functions throughout the Upper Peninsula.

“At some level, you need to have a proposition to those you are going to educate about ‘Why Northern?’” Cant said. “The fact that you work here and love this place shows you believe there is something fantastic that you do here at Northern. There are things that you do specially because of the nature of the care and the community and because of the natural environment here. I think if the institution doesn’t have a sense already of what niches it has, it can’t double-down on those so it can get better and better.”

Questions addressed enrollment issues with NMU, as well as what roles universities play in society, possible program enhancements and other various future concepts for the institution.

While both candidates were asked about an array of topics, both were questioned at length about their thoughts pertaining to the importance of diversity at NMU.

Pemberton said the importance of diversity at the university-level is expanded further than within the student-body, alone.

“I think one of the things that we need to think about when we think about diversity in the university setting, number one, it is defined very broadly,” Pemberton said. “Yes, of course, it includes race and ethnicity; it includes sexual orientation, age, part-time students, full-time students, commuter students and it includes the diversity of ideas. It even includes divergent ways of thought and belief. All of those are part and parcel to that.”

Cant said his experience working abroad and building up the business department at Concordia College is something he wants to bring to NMU. Cant said the evidence lies within the number of diverse staff members in his area.

“When I first arrived at Concordia six years ago, I went into my department, which had, on the first day, 14 people on staff,” Cant said. “There was one secretary who was a woman, there were two other women who were faculty, one who was on a tenure track and the other who was tenured and everyone else was a white male. The youngest person who worked with me was 45 years old.”

Cant said Concordia’s business staff has grown since then.

“If you look at the website now, it’s getting close to 30 people working in my area. Nearly half are women,” Cant said. “Four people are people of color and we have a number of international faculty. I’ve done that very deliberately because, while I can’t impact the students that come to us, the starting point about what I actually can do is employing people who better represent the college community we want to pursue.”

When asked about the issue of enrollment at NMU and other universities across the nation, Pemberton said repeating similar actions to balance out decreases in enrollment  is not a safe solution for institutions.

“I’m pretty feisty,” Pemberton said. “I’m not okay with saying, ‘Okay, sad us, we’ll keep doing what we have been doing.’ We need to do something different. Otherwise, we are going to get the same result and that result is unacceptable.”

According to the Communications and Marketing Department, the NMU Board of Trustees now has to come together and decide on a candidate to vote upon and a decision will be made sometime in May.

“We will make a good a decision,” Popp said. “We thank everyone who attended for the process.”

For extended presentations of the four candidates, visit www.thenorthwindonline.com.