Presidential Podcast: Episode #4


UND Interim President Wynne fields a question during a recent radio interview on 1100 AM The Flag’s morning show.

On the latest installment of the UND Presidential Podcast, Interim President Joshua Wynne talks about the need to guard against “established” truths, an argument prompted by his medical background but applicable in academia and many other fields. He also touches upon the Nov. 1 campus visit by the North Dakota University System Strategic Engagement Team, which looks to enhance the System’s five-year Strategic Plan. President Wynne also invites the campus community to partake in a presidential survey, administered by the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. Lastly, he shares a highlight from UND Football team’s victory over Cal Poly.

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Prefer to read it instead? Here is the full transcript:

Hello once again! I’m University of North Dakota President Joshua Wynne. Thanks for joining me for the latest installment of my UND Presidential Podcast.

As many of you know, I am a practicing cardiologist as well as the Dean of your UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences. So, putting on my white coat for a moment, I would like to discuss something that has always been very important to me in my roles as a physician, medical researcher, and especially, as someone charged with educating our future generations of medical doctors. And that is guarding against the tendency to just assume that so-called “established” truths are just that – truths.

Unfortunately, the tendency to go with the flow, so to speak, can be just as pervasive in academia as it is in the medical professions, or anywhere else, where introspection and self-reflection should be crucial aspects of doing business.

A stimulus for this discussion is a study that I just read in the esteemed medical publication the New England Journal of Medicine. The study looked at whether medical or surgical therapy is better for patients with frequent heartburn (or so-called reflux esophagitis) that was apparently refractory to treatment. It turns out that patients referred with refractory heartburn did do better with surgery than with just medicine—but only a minority of the patients who were said to have refractory reflux esophagitis actually did!

So even though all the referred patients were thought to have refractory reflux, it turned out not to be true—actually, most had something else!

Now back to my role as UND President – in education, we are faced with many established truths of our own. What’s most important to me, though, is how we, as a campus community, deal with these perceived truths when it’s finally determined that they are – well– not true.

I believe it is important that all of us at UND heed two important precepts:

Number 1: We must always be dubious about “obvious” or “established” dictums and we need to subject them to scrutiny if not study;
And Number 2: We need to be prepared to change course when the “established” truths turn out to be incomplete or false.

In education, for example, there’s evidence that adult learners do better in an active-learning environment. But whether that is true of all adults, and all types of learning, is not as clear. UND has made a real commitment in recent years to introduce more active-learning opportunities in the form of flipped classrooms, where students take a more active and hands-on approach to their education, as opposed to the old-style “sage on a stage” approach to educational delivery. That’s all well and good. But we also need to evaluate whether our outcomes are indeed better, and not simply rest on our laurels because we are doing the current right thing or best practice.

On the administrative side, one of my first big decisions as Interim President was the result of questions I had about increased student fees to help pay for UND’s new Memorial Union, now under construction along University Avenue. I asked my colleagues on UND’s leadership team to revisit the issue, scrutinize the process, and be prepared to change course, if needed.

The result was a new plan that greatly reduced the fee burden that would have been imposed on our students. Our students and the State were further rewarded with an even better deal after Moody’s credit-rating service gave UND a Double A 3 prime bond rating because of the University’s stable financial outlook. I ultimately endorsed the new plan for the Memorial Union, after which the State Board of Higher Education responded with a unanimous approval to proceed with the project.

There are many other examples I could use to show how being willing to review established truths, scrutinize outcomes and change course, if appropriate, is not only a good thing but also the right thing to do as we continue to move forward and strive for excellence.

And besides, if there’s any place in this world where we should be evaluating, debating and scrutinizing, it is on a University campus.

I also want to take a moment today to say how pleased I am to announce that UND will the first stop for the State Board of Higher Education and North Dakota University System’s Strategic Planning visits to all System campuses. The visits are slated to take place over the next five months.

UND’s date is Friday, Nov. 1, with a morning visit by the NDUS Strategic Engagement Team to hear from groups of faculty, staff, students and local leaders. The team will use the visits to identify and discuss potential changes to the NDUS 5-year Strategic Plan. Those recommendations will then be shared with the State Board of Higher Education. Stay tuned to University communication channels and local media outlets for time and location information for the NDUS visit to UND.

I also want to encourage participation in a UND Presidential Survey conducted by the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. The survey is one tool being used by the UND Presidential Search Committee to select the next permanent UND President.

It also gives participants the opportunity to suggest ideas for what I can and should be doing better or differently for the remainder of my time as Interim President.

Surveys have been circulating around campus for several weeks now, and new versions of the survey are being designed to solicit student input as well as opinions from the community at large. If you would like to take part in the survey, and have not received one yet, please reach out to Cordell Fontaine at the Nistler College at 701.777.3593.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to UND Football Coach Bubba Schwiegert and his Fighting Hawks, who I was fortunate to see, in person, defeat the Mustangs of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in California last weekend.

It was a nail biter of a game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of play. I had a chance to travel with the team to California, and saw firsthand the professionalism of our student-athletes on full display in the Golden State. They performed well on and off the field, and certainly made me UND Proud!

Thanks so much for your time, and I look forward to joining you again for more UND news in a couple weeks. As always – Go UND!