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Search committee has blind spot
14 June 2007

BISMARCK (UTN) - The search committee for a new president at the University of North Dakota has a blind spot. It doesn't have anyone on it from the state's American Indian community.

      The apparent omission is a signal that "Indians aren't wanted in the process," according to David M. Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck.

David M. Gipp
David M. Gipp, President, United Tribes Technical College

      "I'm concerned that the State Board of Higher Education is ignoring American Indian requests to participate in the process of selecting a new UND president," said Gipp. "It's a failure to recognize and understand the diversity found within the state and does nothing for relations with the Native American community."

      Current UND President Charles Kupchella has announced plans to retire next year. A 16 member committee has been selected by the State Board of Higher Education to screen applications from those seeking the job. On the committee are UND faculty members, students, alumni, state officials and members of the Grand Forks community.

      In a story published June 14 in the Bismarck Tribune, John Q. Paulsen, president of the State Board of Higher Education, said the current selection committee can adequately consider American Indian issues even though it lacks an American Indian member. He said the board has already completed the process of winnowing down hundreds of sug­gested names - including those from various minority groups - into a viable selection committee.

      "We weren't concerned as much about ethnic background as we were about people's ability to make good decisions in selecting a new president," Paulsen told the Tribune. "And we feel we've selected a committee that can achieve that goal."

      Paulsen invited members of the American Indian community to send their questions and concerns to committee members, who could then address those concerns with the applicants.

      "To treat the state's most significant minority population in a paternalistic way is unacceptable in the 21st Century," said Gipp. "To say, 'we can handle it for you, that you don't really need to be involved at our level,' exposes a blind spot in the leadership of higher education."

      American Indians are North Dakota's largest minority group at 4.9 percent of the state's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

      Gipp pointed out that the state's elected tribal leaders who serve on the United Tribes board had passed a resolution in April making their request for Native participation in the process. Leaders of Native American programs at UND had also sought to be involved early in the committee selection process.

      In addition to being citizens of the state who have much to contribute, Indians have a strong interest in this hiring, said Gipp.

      The university receives approximately $13 million annually in state and federal grants to run a wide range of American Indian programs that serve tribal organizations across the state and students on the campus. There are 420 American Indian students in the college's total enroll­ment of about 13,000.

      "If UND really aspires to being a premier American Indian serving institution then it makes sense to have American Indians involved," said Gipp. "The make up of this selection committee shouldn't be a done deal."

      The new president at UND needs to be able to serve all the people of North Dakota, including American Indians, said Gipp.

      "We need to have a president who is knowledgeable or can become knowledgeable about American Indians and the role they play in this state," he said. "This is a time to learn what the job candidates think about how a higher learning institution should conduct its diversity programs and how it should serve students of all backgrounds who need to know about diversity in the world."

      Gipp pointed out that he had not and was not asking that he be considered for membership on the screening committee.

      According to the State Board of Higher Education, the board would like to see the selection process of a new UND president completed by the beginning of 2008.


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