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Sit down interview with new UND president Mark Kennedy

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Grand Forks, ND (WDAZ-TV)

“Why did you want this job?” asked reporter Matt Henson.

“Why did I want this job? It's the best national university in the region of the world where I grew up. So I'm really excited to be back here, this is really the home area for Debbie and me. We're excited to be back and it's got a great reputation, a wide array of programs that are very exciting to me, the fact that it has a medical school, a law school, big aerospace program; all of those things make it an exciting opportunity,” replied Mark Kennedy.

“What do you bring to the table here?” asked Henson.

“I bring three different skill sets. Number one academia, in my current school I've really transformed that so it's now unquestionably the number one, really in the world, at what it does, but we were recently recognized as being number one in the country with our public relations program. I also bring business background, having really led organizations larger than UND. I was a treasurer at Macy's, I helped Pillsbury buy and expand Haagen-Dazs, and I was also a leader at some other companies. So I had that managerial experience but also the engagement expertise that you get from being in public life and this public university needs to engage the state,” explained Kennedy.

“What type of leader are you?” asked Henson.

“I'm a very collaborative leader, if you look at my team at the George Washington University we get along very well. I want them to do their job so I don't go and parachute in and do their job for them, I want them to do their jobs and get advice and counselling from me as needed. We all agree on what the objectives are, everybody's supposed to achieve, we have this plan we are all working toward and work toward that plan. I would classify myself as somebody who builds a great team, sets them on their path, celebrates their success, is there to help in any way I can,” said Kennedy.

“Could that possibly mean a major shake up here at the university?” responded Henson.

“I have no idea, I mean my criteria for those that work with me is that they're capable, that they're collaborative, because if there is any sort of this behind the back stuff that's not part of my style, I'm a very collaborative person as well as that they're committed to excellence. If they're thinking that everything's okay now we can't really do any better that's not the type of person that typically does well with me. If they have the same drive for excellence that I do I'm sure we'll all get along” Kennedy replied.

“Where do you see the university several years from now under your leadership?” asked Henson.

“I see the university, what I'm really focused on is the freshman retention rates and the graduation rates to see if we can move that up. As part of the strategic plan I want to pick three or four things that we are going to be the best anywhere. And I want those really across the whole university. For example, if we're going to make unmanned aircraft a number one area, one of those top three to four things to focus on, then we ought to be focusing on it from a legal perspective, how does it affect people socially, what happens when a drone drives by your bathroom window, all those issues. So pick out three or four areas where we're going to really excel,” said Kennedy.

“What is your number one priority when you take office July 1st?” asked Henson.

“My number one priority is to listen. To meet with as many of the departments at UND, both the faculty departments as well as staff departments, also to go meet with the other ten universities in the school system here in North Dakota, as well as many citizens, alumni, legislators as I can. Out around the state, on farms and drill sites, coffee shops and schools, I really want to understand all the good things about UND and what people's hopes and aspirations are before we move on to a strategic plan,” said Kennedy.

“That being said, how much time do you actually plan on spending on campus if you're out traveling?” responded Henson.

“I think in the first three months I'm going to spend almost half of it travelling, the other half of it on campus. After that, you know I'm going to be on campus a lot and out and about a lot, but I think that it is important as a head of a public university that you're engaging with the state. This is the state's university, and so therefore it is important to engage with the state. So I'm going to be launching programs that I call pancakes with the president on campus to get an opportunity to mingle on an informal basis with a broad array of folks, as well as coffee with Kennedy, out in coffee shops around the state,” said Kennedy.

“How do you plan on being transparent with the campus community and the Grand Forks community as well?” asked Henson.

I think you need to have a plan, that's why I'm so anxious to go through a listening session, and creating a strategic plan, because if you explain things in the context of this is what we all agreed to be our priorities and we're sticking with those priorities and you can explain your actions within those priorities, people are going to have a lot easier time understanding it than if they're all just one off explanations one after another, and so creating the plan is going to be my first big step,” said Kennedy.

“Now the school currently has a nine and a half million dollar budget deficit, they have to come up with a spending plan by next month, will you have any say in that being the incoming president?” asked Henson.

“I'm not sure, I'm happy to consult with president Schafer, Schafer has a process moving forward on that, but I think he is making a lot of sense he's set targets, he's let people have input, he's having the deans have a say in what happens in the university, going through it methodically making the difficult decisions, those are important steps to take. So if I can be of help I am happy to, otherwise president Schafer seems to have that well in hand, I'll look forward to taking his consul as I move forward,” explained Kennedy.

“You have a lot of expertise with budgets, moving forward you're probably going to have to maintain a tight spending cap. How do you plan to achieve that?” asked Henson.

“I've got to dig into numbers first, I told Alice Brekke I'd be spending a lot of time with her to understand what they are, and we have to look for innovative ways, can we do things were we can have some breakthroughs for the budget perspective, do more for less, but I think we have to hold very close to the tight budget, whenever we have a need to adjust, I think we need to do that fairly quickly so that we're not always in this mode of uncertainty, because it is that uncertainty that is the most debilitating to the university, we need to get through that and on to exciting things,” explained Kennedy.