UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Rand, Light named Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors

UND experts on Indian gaming law and policy surprised with UND’s highest academic honor

UND President Andrew Armacost (left) surprises Steven Light (center) and Kathryn Rand with UND’s highest academic honor last Friday in front of their respective deans and colleagues. The pair widely known as the nation’s experts in American Indian gaming law and policy are now Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

When Kathryn Rand and Steven Light were asked to meet President Andy Armacost in his office last Friday, they happily obliged — no questions asked.

“We had no idea,” Rand said about the meeting’s purpose. “But we certainly know enough that when you get a calendar invite from the president’s office, you simply say yes. So, we responded yes, and that was it. That was the whole story.”

The UND professors figured they’d put on their Sunday best — Rand in a dress and no winter boots (a first for the year, she joked) and Light in a suit, tie and signature sneakers with neon-yellow laces — and trek to Twamley Hall. Once there, they’d chat with Armacost about the latest in American Indian gaming law.

As co-founders and co-directors of UND’s Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law & Policy, the pair are considered the nation’s premier experts on the subject, so nothing seemed out of the ordinary. That is until the president ushered them to a nearby conference room populated by Provost Eric Link, their respective deans, a number of their colleagues and a media team armed with cameras.

The jig was up.

Brian Urlacher (left to right), President Andrew Armacost, Kathryn Rand, Steven Light, Nister College of Business & Public Administration Dean Amy Henley and Provost Eric Link. At the surprise award presentation, Henley added: “You bring notoriety, recognition and legitimacy to our college and University. Thank you for allowing people like us to tell your stories to our alumni and friends. We’re very proud.” Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Surprise, surprise

“So, this is not about Indigenous affairs like I let on in the office,” Armacost explained, as the puzzled Rand and Light stood wide-eyed as they surveyed the room. “This is about your incredible service to the University and the impact you’ve had on so many. Today is a day when we bestow upon you an honor.”

Then it was Provost Link’s turn to speak, as he handed each scholar a plaque: “We would like to name both of you Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors at the University of North Dakota.

“Congratulations! Well done! This is a testament to a great career and outstanding research and dedication to your fields — jointly and separately. We really appreciate all that you’ve done for the University as scholars, as teachers and as administrators.”

After a jubilant round of applause, Rand said, “Wow! I’m overcome. I’m just taking all of this in. It’s so nice to have this group of faces in the room with us. Thank you.”

“This is a shock and complete surprise. You’re pretty good at that,” Light added with a chuckle and nod to Armacost. “Our deep, profound thanks. It is a huge honor and so gratifying to be standing here with Kathryn. Our work truly has been a joint effort. We’re thrilled, absolutely thrilled, but we’re standing on the shoulders of a whole bunch of folks who have done great work here at UND for years.”

Light, a professor of Political Science & Public Administration, and Rand, UND’s Floyd B. Sperry Professor of Law, join the ranks of a small number of faculty members who’ve earned the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship in its 50-year history. Rand now is only the second professor from the UND School of Law to have been named a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor, and Light is only the second professor from the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration to earn the same honor.

They will be recognized formally at Spring Commencement on May 13.

Steven Light and Kathryn Rand shared that it was especially meaningful to be recognized for the work they’ve collaborated on across disciplines since they first joined UND in 2000. In the photo below, Julia Ernst, associate dean for Teaching & Engagement and professor of law, gives Rand a hug. Photos by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Highest academic honor

As the University’s highest academic honor, the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship was established with an endowment gift from the late UND benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983).

Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Each year, revenue from the endowment provides cash stipends to one or more full-time UND faculty members, who thereafter may use the title Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.

It’s a lofty accomplishment and one awarded only to those who’ve demonstrated achievement across research, teaching and service, as well as significant national or regional recognition in any one of those missions. In the case of Rand and Light, it was accomplishments in all three, often the result of their extensive and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Between them, they have authored more than 60 articles exploring how and why tribally owned casinos came to be and how they’ve remade the legal, political and regulatory landscape for gaming and socioeconomic development across the United States.

Further, the pair have written the book — make that three books — that are the gold standard in the field, including “Indian Gaming Law: Cases & Materials,” “Indian Gaming Law & Policy” and “Indian Gaming & Tribal Sovereignty: The Casino Compromise.”

In 2022, they also served as Inaugural Visiting Professors in the Indian Nations Gaming & Governance Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where they also were named Senior Distinguished Fellows in Tribal Gaming at the International Center for Gaming Regulation. They’ve testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and have been quoted by numerous news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Indian Country Today.

Previously, both Rand and Light also were jointly recognized with UND’s most prestigious faculty award — the UND Foundation/McDermott Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research and Service.

From 2009 to 2018, Rand served as dean of the UND School of Law and was the first woman to hold that position. Light’s leadership portfolio includes serving as interim dean of UND’s Nistler College of Business & Public Administration (2017-18) and the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines (2013-14). He also was associate vice president for Academic Affairs (2011-17) and associate provost for Undergraduate Education (2010-11).

President Andrew Armacost (left) and Provost Eric Link (right) lured Steven Light and Kathryn Rand to a small award ceremony last Friday in Twamley Hall by sending them a meeting invite from the president’s office. Neither knew what really was in store for them. Link later joked that they had just wanted to check out Light’s snazzy shoes. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Making their mark

Together, they’ve racked up enough accomplishments to garner 271 pages of glowing praise in the nomination packets for the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor awards. An astounding 80-plus letters were submitted in support of their nominations, written by industry and academic experts, tribal leaders, colleagues and the many students they’ve taught since first joining UND as assistant professors in 2000.

In his nomination letter, Department Chair and Political Science & Public Administration Professor Brian Urlacher said Light and Rand “reshaped how an entire area of regulation and law understood tribal gaming.”

“This is not solely my view,” Urlacher wrote — and that point also was expressed by Anthony N. Cabot, a Distinguished Fellow of Gaming Law at UNLV.

“Early in their distinguished careers, they embraced and ultimately defined the unique legal discipline we now recognize as Native American gaming law,” Cabot wrote.

“In doing so, they laid the legal foundation for a $40 billion industry that has significantly improved the quality of life and economic climate in and around the reservations.”

Urlacher also took note of student letters that spoke of Light’s dedication, passion and skills as an educator. He cited one graduate student who described a course as “hands-down the most impactful, transformative learning experience” she’d had in her program.

Likewise, fellow Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor James Mochoruk, professor of History and American Indian Studies, spoke of students’ high regard for Rand.

“Kathryn has been part of a school that is deeply committed to excellence in teaching, and as one can see from the letters from former students and colleagues, she has been instrumental in maintaining that commitment. … Her dedication to teaching and to her students, her innovative approaches to pedagogy and course design, and her work as a mentor to colleagues and former students all bespeak a deep and profound commitment to our role as teachers at a public university.”

Both Rand and Light said they were humbled by the cascade of kind words.

“To be honored in this way together is incredibly meaningful,” said Rand. “We built our careers together here and have collaborated with the full support of our respective colleges and with the University. Without UND, that collaboration and its impact would not have been possible.

“This is an honor we didn’t expect, but one that we very much cherish.”

Added Light: “Being able to be on this journey together has been remarkable. UND has supported our work and collaboration in ways that would be the envy of other universities. We’ve been able to break down silos instead of reinforcing them.

“Our goal always has been to have a real-world impact and to help people understand what tribes and American Indian people face — the challenges and the opportunities. We’re genuinely honored and so grateful to be able to help policymakers and others understand the role that tribal gaming plays in American Indian communities today.”