Kansas administrator named president of North Dakota State

February 23, 2022 GMT

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A University of Kansas administrator was selected Wednesday as president at North Dakota State University.

The state Board of Higher Education unanimously opted for David Cook, the vice chancellor for public affairs and economic development at the Lawrence, Kansas, school. He beat out two other finalists: Marymount provost and vice president Hesham El-Rewini, and University of Minnesota Crookston chancellor Mary Holz Clause.

The day didn’t begin quite like Cook wanted. He was the only finalist to be interviewed remotely after his flight was canceled due to a storm. He considered taking the 9-hour drive to Fargo, but many of the highways were in bad shape as well.

“I am hugely disappointed,” Cook said before his hour-long interview with the board. That sentiment changed five hours later when he got back online to accept the board’s congratulations.

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“I am just absolutely thrilled and excited. Here we go,” Cook said. “I have been able to tell one person, my wife, and she was ecstatic as well.”

Cook will replace Dean Bresciani, who is stepping down after a dozen years at the helm to become a tenured professor in health sciences and education. Bresciani butted heads with the board and university system on issues involving research, enrollment and personnel, but was lauded by the three finalists for his part in a record-setting $600 million fundraising campaign.

Cook has experience at a large university. Kansas has more than 28,000 students, 2,800 faculty and 7,200 staff members, and an annual budget of $1.2 million. Cook’s role at the school included working with lobbyists to bring state and federal money to a liberal school in a conservative state.

“It is a role I am very engaged with,” he said, adding that he an “appetite to do more” with the Legislature.

He’s also coming from a big-time basketball school to a college that has dominated the second tier of Division I football. Cook said during his visit to the campus that Bresciani had done “an incredible job with athletics.”

“I don’t know about filling the shoes, but I would consider that a top priority,” Cook said, noting that he was “comfortable in that space.” He also added that Kansas had its highest enrollment the year after the Jayhawks won a national championship in men’s basketball and the Orange Bowl in football.

Asked to name some of the challenges he’ll face at North Dakota State, Cook said he feels there’s an opportunity to improve on enrollment, research and internal relations. He also said there’s room for the school to partner with other schools in the system, which includes two research universities, four regional universities and five community colleges.

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“I think we’re all better and stronger together,” Cook said, which echoed the board’s longstanding stance on a unified system.

Cook was named to head public affairs and economic development at Kansas in 2020. He previously served as vice chancellor and founding dean for the school’s Edwards campus and was an associated vice chancellor for the Kansas medical school.

The contract for Cook, who will start no later than July 1, will be negotiated with leaders of the university system. Bresciani’s final contract paid him more than $371,000 a year.

A native of Ames, Iowa, Cook earned his undergraduate degree at Iowa State and his masters and doctoral degrees at Kansas.