Finalist: Andrew Armacost

Andrew Armacost, finalist for the position of President of the University of North Dakota, visited the UND campus on Nov. 20-21

Andrew Armacost, finalist for the position of President of UND. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

There is no better way to represent what he believes, Andrew Armacost said, than the Eagle and Fledglings Statue in the center of the Air Force Academy campus with the statue’s inscription, “Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge.” Armacost sees a connection between that and UND’s motto, Lux et Lex (Light and Law), he added.

The son of a Coast Guard officer, Armacost grew up in Wisconsin and said the principles of hard work, commitment, and honor were ingrained in him at an early age. His work, he said, blends two passions: service and the desire to help educate.

Brig. Gen. Armacost will retire from active duty in the U.S. Air Force on Dec. 1. He stepped down from his position as dean of the faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy in September, and said the presidency of UND would be a natural way to continue his work and service to benefit students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as the people of North Dakota.

Armacost spoke at a public forum on the UND campus on Nov. 21. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

At his public forum on Nov. 21, Armacost took questions from the audience. The answers to some of those questions are summarized below.

  • Regarding the difference between Air Force cadet and UND student recruitment and retention, Armacost said the Academy admits students with a wide array of academic talents, and offers many support services, along with “second, third and fourth chances.” He said it can be difficult to recruit in rural America and inner cities, and he sees some parallels with UND.
  • Rather than giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed, which he called a “Hollywood myth,” Armacost focuses on building consensus and collaboration. “The Air Force Academy is much like any university,” he said, adding that faculty forums and a newly chartered faculty Senate enable leadership to hear from faculty.
  • An audience member asked Armacost to elaborate on giving students multiple chances to succeed. One of his philosophies is “love your people,” Armacost said, adding he focuses on supporting students. As a consequence, a significant number of students who’d experienced difficulties have gone on to graduate. Some students call him “Uncle Andy” for his care and support of students.
  • Asked what ACT scores should be required for admission to UND, Armacost said it’s hard to pick a specific number, and that some students struggle early and go on to succeed, and vice versa. Class rank is a good measure, he said, adding that he would look carefully at the data and encourage students to finish within four years.
  • Regarding breaking down silos and integrating student services, Armacost said there is some competition between academic, athletic, military training and aviation programs at the Academy, and he ensures senior leaders are aware of how each program impacts the others.
  • Asked about experience in letting people go and shutting down programs, Armacost said the 2013 federal budget cuts forced the Academy to eliminate programs and classes. His priority was to ensure that current students could complete programs. Faculty and staff cuts were limited to vacant or soon-to-be vacant positions. Weekly town hall meetings kept people updated.
  • Regarding the transition to Division 1 athletics, Armacost said he was a D1 athlete who played baseball at Northwestern – for three months. Athletics, he said, bring people to campus and offer amazing development opportunities for students. Armacost said he met with UND coaches and is an ally for D1 athletics. Armacost supports applied experiences, and although the Academy does not offer graduate programs, it has raised $55 million for an undergraduate research portfolio and 22 funded research activities that offer a rich student research experience.
  • About the cultural and weather differences between Colorado Springs and North Dakota, Armacost said to laughter that while their eldest daughters are or soon will be on their own, their other “daughter” – 11-year-old Sadie, a cockapoo – may have some trouble adjusting. As a military family, there is a natural expectation of moving. He said Grand Forks is a beautiful city that along with UND students has a sense of hard work and purpose, and that he could see himself living here.
  • His wife, Kathy, said that during their visit, it has been very clear that UND is a beloved university, and that people are very proud of it. She added they would enjoy living here, especially because she’s become addicted to Chippers.
  • Armacost said one of his toughest decisions was to make core curriculum changes during budget cuts, and to cut general education courses from a department. The decision was sapping faculty and staff morale, he said, so he subsidized staffing so the department could survive. He also mentioned a research wind tunnel which would have cost $25 million and improved the Academy’s reputation but would benefit only six students. He cut the project because he couldn’t see spending that many tax dollars to benefit so few students.
  • When asked how he would create a welcoming environment for students, Armacost suggested creating an eighth goal in the UND Strategic Plan, which would focus on building a sense of community and belonging.
  • About his UND experience, Armacost said he was stunned by the warm reception and impressed by how much alumni care and wish for UND’s success. Learning about budget and athletic challenges, he said, has been enlightening, and he would like to learn more.
  • When it comes to diversity and inclusion, his leadership philosophy is “love your people.” He supports affinity groups at the Academy, and at UND, he’d make sure that everyone felt part of the campus. He works to promote respectful dialogue between people with different opinions.
  • Armacost confirmed that he appeared on “The Price is Right” during a vacation in 2018. After winning a pool table, he was called on stage to play a game he hadn’t seen before. He is now the proud owner of a Ford Focus with the license plate CMONDWN. “I’m glad you let me come on down,” Armacost said. “It’s been an honor to visit this remarkable university that cares deeply about students.”

To watch a video of Armacost’s public forum, visit the UND Presidential Search page.