CEDAR FALLS — Throughout his time on campus, University of Northern Iowa presidential finalist Mark Nook has been asking people the question of what makes the university special.
Nook told the crowd gathered for a public forum Thursday that he’s gotten a universal answer.
“It’s community. And everyone knows how to talk about it,” Nook said.
Nook, who currently serves as chancellor at Montana State University Billings, said he was loathe to talk about the best way to “sell” UNI to others until he learned more from the people on campus. But he said the concepts of community and student success have been clear messages in his research about the university and through his conversations on campus.
“Another thing we need to articulate that I haven’t heard people talk about until I started to mention it and that is we educate Iowans for Iowa, and nobody else does it like we do,” Nook said.
“That’s a place we can put a stake in the ground and nobody else can claim, .., and it needs to be a big, tall stake, with a purple and gold flag at the top of it, and let other people try to take it away from us. They won’t be able to.”
Nook, 58, is one of three finalists vying for the job of UNI’s 11th president. Former UNI President Bill Ruud announced this past spring he was taking a job at a small liberal arts college in Ohio.
Nook was the last candidate brought to campus. The presidential search committee will receive feedback over the weekend and meet again Monday to discuss the candidates.
They will then meet with the Iowa Board of Regents, which will interview the three finalists Tuesday. The regents are expected to announce the university’s next president Tuesday afternoon.
Nook’s presentation centered on the role and place for comprehensive public universities like UNI. He distinguished them as not on a continuum between large public research institutions and small private liberal arts colleges but rather as their own entity that overlaps with the two others.
he added that the space UNI occupies leaves room for both research and commitment to the liberal arts. Nook talked about the ways that helps develop a whole person for the public good.
“We take Iowa students, and we make Iowa leaders and Iowa professionals. It’s the real hallmark of comprehensives,” Nook said. “It’s more important that we educate Iowans to stay in Iowa and grow Iowa and UNI will do that as well as and better than almost anywhere else you can think of and find in our state.”
Nook, who said he was raised in Iowa, said Iowans sometimes suffer from “heroic humility” or “militant modesty” in failing to adequately celebrate their successes. He said the role of the president is to be aware of and publicly celebrate the university’s successes.
He also discussed the myriad challenges and opportunities facing UNI, particularly the way some describe and question the role of universities and the value of higher education.
He listed more than a dozen different challenges, but focused on three.
They were the questions surrounding the value of higher education, the value of the liberal arts and the value of tenure. Nook then went on to defend the importance of each in general and at UNI.
He praised the university’s recently completed strategic plan for placing so highly the values of student success and growing diversity and inclusion on campus. Nook praised universities like UNI for growing its diversity, but he said they still had a ways to go to be fully inclusive.
Particularly, Nook noted that UNI’s retention rates for underrepresented students on campus was below its general retention rates and below that of its peers.
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“I believe the future is bright of regional comprehensive universities, public comprehensive universities but especially here, because I have seen a commitment from the students, from the faculty and the staff to making this a place focused on student success,” Nook said.
The forum can be viewed at iowaregents.edu/