BY BREANN LENZMEIER
The long process of selecting MSUM’s next president came to an end last Wednesday when Chancellor Rosenstone made his appointment of president elect Anne Blackhurst. After the position were 46 candidates. The field was narrowed to nine, and then three who made visits to campus. At the MnSCU meeting Chancellor Steven Rosenstone recommended the appointment of Dr. Anne Blackhurst to become the 11th president of MSUM.
Blackhurst has been at MSUM for the past three years and is currently the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. Prior to MSUM, Blackhurst was at Minnesota State University, Mankato for 17 years where she held many roles in her tenure.
Blackhurst will succeed current president Edna Szymanski who is retiring in June after holding the presidential office at MSUM since 2008. Blackhurst begins her presidency on July 1.
What does it feel like?
“It is an incredible honor and privilege. I feel a tremendous amount of pride. The support from the campus community and the Fargo-Moorhead community has been overwhelming.”
What was the process like?
“It’s a very lengthy process and it was a bit challenging to go through all that and continue my current job as provost and feel like I was able to focus on my work and give it my due diligence. It’s challenging, because there are things that you can’t divulge and being an internal candidate. It was big relief on Wednesday when the vote was final and knowing that I’ll be on the 11th president of MSUM.”
What has MSUM meant to you the past three years?
“I’ve heard students say that it’s hard to put into words what it is about this place that makes you fall in love with it. That’s how I feel, I’ve fallen in love with the university. It is something about our students, they are extraordinary, they are willing to take risks and accomplish amazing things. It’s about the faculty that mentor the students. It’s a sense of family, it’s a million kind of quirky things that I can’t even put into words things but for me it’s just the right fit. Presidencies go the best for everyone when the president feels proud about the campus. My hope is that I’ll inspire that kind of pride in return.”
What will the transition be from provost to president this summer?
“I want to hit the ground running on July 1, I’ve done lots of thinking of what I want to do the first few months. It will be shifting my focus and energy to other things thinking more about external relations and interacting more with the community and still carving out the time to be present on campus. That will carry forward in my new role.”
What are some of your short term goals of your presidency?
“Making changes in the campus culture and rewriting the narrative of the university. We need to take charge of that narrative about the great things that are happening. It’s telling the story and telling it beyond the borders of the university. On the leadership level, there needs to be a strong sense of shared vision and purpose and agreement among us as to what we are going to do try and change the culture to one where there is more pride and passion and purpose and sense of possibility. Building teamwork and strong leadership team is on my short term list of goals. Moving forward with the university’s strategic plan. They are more at the conceptual level and they need to be moved to the operational level.”
How do you hope to increase enrollment?
It partly about strategy, we need to get more clear about what is the ideal enrollment for MSUM and how what are the pieces that make up that total. What strategies will we peruse to get those pieces. Beyond that if we have a culture of pride, passion, purpose and if each student experiences that then each one of those students will be an ambassador for us. Reconnecting with alums and show them how they contribute to MSUM and increasing our enrollment.
How do you hope to avoid a deficit?
“I had to send a really strong message, I can be a different of face I can be positive. I commend president Szymanski for having the courage for taking on the budget challenges in the final year of her presidency and leave the university in very sound financial shape. I think our budget will be balanced going forward and we will be able to focus on our priorities. I do know Edna a debt of gratitude for tackling those challenges before she left us.”
What do you hope to take from Edna and her time at MSUM?
“Edna loves this place and that is something we have in common and I deeply appreciate that about her. I want to have the same sort of intensity that Edna but in my own way. The basic drive, enthusiasm and pride and continue that at as president.”
Is there one area you are specifically focused on immediately?
“I think it starts with the leadership team. I think carefully about that group … how we will communicate with the rest of campus and everything flows from there.”
What do you hope people think of when people think of MSUM during your presidency?
“I hope that people will be able to point to specific instances, but more than anything when pride in the institution made a resurrance and people connected with the reasons why they love MSUM. If those things are true at the end of my presidency I will feel completely satisfied.”
How do you plan to keep the lines of communication open between administration, student body and faculty?
“I’ve thought a lot about communication, I’ve asked for advice and try some things and see what works. Some kind of regular, predictable communication from the president would be important. Communication is an issue and I will be seeking lots of advice on how to improve on internal communication.
Any challenges in the short term making the transition from provost to president?
“Filling key leadership positions on campus and then supporting they can be successful. Then having a succession plan and constantly developing leaders within the campus community so and they are prepared to step in those roles when the time is right is. It’s a challenge because of where we are located and the MnSCU system is unique. It’s a successful plan not just for MSUM but MnSCU as well. Always cultivating leadership with the institution so people are ready to step in those roles. Filling some of those key positions will be a challenge initially.”
How do you make sure that everyday is a great day to be a Dragon?
“It starts with the president, I have to feel that it is a great day to be a Dragon and then I have emanate that and articulate that and that has to permeate that in the institution. It doesn’t happen overnight, when we get to that point where that is the experience, that is when we will know we have transformed that culture. We have work to do to have a more unified and share purpose of values, no matter where you go and who you ask, that everyone feels that sense sense of pride and passion is there.”
Blackhurst said that she is excited and nervous about beginning her new role at the university but is overwhelmed with excitement and pride and very humbled at the faith the Chancellor Rosenstone and the Board of Trustees have placed in her.