Reflections on UND from past presidents

‘Leading and lifting up UND is work worth doing,’ the presidents agree, as they talk about their time at a very special place

In this video, former University of North Dakota presidents reflect on their time at UND and what the institution means to the state and the community – and how they were shaped by it, too. They offer some words of wisdom to incoming President Andrew Armacost as he is inaugurated as UND’s 13th President.

Included in the video from Thomas J. Clifford, Kendall L. Baker, Charles E. Kupchella, Robert O. Kelley, Ed Schafer, Mark R. Kennedy and Joshua Wynne. A transcript of the video is below.


Robert O. Kelley, UND President, 2008-16: You have to not only be the voice of the university, but in so many ways the personality, the innermost presentation of what the university is: an institution for what the state must be and desires to be.

Mark R. Kennedy, UND President, 2016-19: Many things inspired me about UND – foremost among them, the passion of the faculty and the staff to advance the university’s mission to teach, discover and serve.

Kendall L. Baker, UND President, 1992-99: It’s a big state. But it’s a state with a very special — a very, very special kind of people.

Charles E. Kupchella, UND President, 1999-2009: You get calls from people sitting on a combine somewhere in western North Dakota, in the middle of the night using lights, and trying to maybe pass along some thoughts they had about what we might do about a certain issue.

Thomas J. Clifford, UND President, 1971-92: People like to feel they’re part of the enterprise. They’re part of the moving ahead.

Baker: Enthusiasm and commitment and those kind of things, they’re contagious. And it is because of the enthusiasm and commitment that the students at UND had, that I think an awful lot of other people were equally devoted to this fine institution.

Ed Schafer, UND Interim President, 2016: You will find the students stimulating and the community warm. Hold dear the values and character of North Dakota, and I am confident your institution will instill in students the honesty, integrity, morality and ethics that will shape their lives as they enter the world.

Joshua Wynne, UND Interim President, 2019-20: My major goal in being president was to help stabilize things. As I evolved in the presidency, what I saw even more clearly was just how exciting things were all around the UND campus.

So my eyes were actually open even wider to the wide variety of wonderful things that are going on around campus.

Kupchella: The feeling and knowledge that I was managed to keep in mind that I was having an opportunity to influence, during the time I was there, the lives of maybe 100,000 graduates during those years. I mean, what could be better than that?

Clifford: I had a lot of interest in people. And people were important to me, and students were important to me. And faculty were important to me.

Kennedy: Theodore Roosevelt observed, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Leading and lifting up UND is work worth doing that has a profoundly positive impact on its students and state.

Kupchella: I remember the advice I got from one of my mentors back before I even took the position. I said, “You have anything to offer me as a bit of advice?” He said, “No, you’ll never know what’s going to happen. So be lucky.”

Kelley: My experience early on was having a conversation with a professor in the aerospace program. And he knew that I had enjoyed flying sailplanes many years ago, I had a ticket to fly sailplanes. He said, I bet you’d like to try one of our trainers.

And I didn’t even hesitate; said yes, of course, I’d love to try one of your trainers. You sit down, and everything is pretty normal. You’re being coached through your flight moves. And then you start elevating the nose and heading higher and higher and higher and higher still. And pretty soon, everything starts turning black.

And you realize that you are entering a suborbital flight. You are in early space.

The feeling that you have at that moment is not unlike being the president of the university. You’ve lost your point of reference at some point, and you have to look around and find those two stars that you can keep aligned so that you don’t roll uncontrollably.

President Armacost already does that, already knows that. And I wish him all the best with everything that I can wish for him for success for his role at the University of North Dakota.