Higher education

University of Northern Iowa names Mark Nook 11th president

Chancellor at Montana State University Billings to start new job Feb. 1

Northern Iowa presidential candidate Mark Nook speaks to students, professors and staff at the Presentation and Open Forum in Maucker Union Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Northern Iowa presidential candidate Mark Nook speaks to students, professors and staff at the Presentation and Open Forum in Maucker Union Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

CEDAR FALLS — Inciting praise from faculty and a standing ovation from a memorial union packed with students, the Board of Regents on Tuesday introduced Mark Nook as the 11th president at the University of Northern Iowa.

Nook, 58, is chancellor at the smaller Montana State University Billings but has experience at large Midwestern institutions — namely the University of Wisconsin System, where he served from 2011 to 2014 as senior vice president for academic and student affairs.

In his UNI appointment, Nook bested two other finalists — interim UNI President Jim Wohlpart and former Temple University President Neil Theobald. Wohlpart began serving as interim president over the summer when Bill Ruud left to lead the smaller, private Marietta College in Ohio.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said Wohlpart is going to be asked to resume duties as UNI provost once Nook starts Feb. 1. One aspect of Nook’s experience that gave him an edge, according to Rastetter, was his numerous leadership roles.

“He’s president of a university today — so he’s got that experience,” Rastetter said.

Nook also benefited from his Iowa ties — he grew up in Holstein, Iowa, and earned his master’s degree in astrophysics from Iowa State University. Rastetter said the 21-member search committee that recruited and pored over applicants was especially enthusiastic about Nook.

“We just need great leadership,” Rastetter said. “The university has continued to improve in the last few years, enrollment has stabilized and is going in the right direction, we have support from the state legislature and the governor, but we need a leader to take it to the next level.”

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To a crowded room of students, faculty and staff in the memorial union Tuesday, Nook vowed to do just that in his homecoming.

“You have taken an orphanage and turned it into one of the great public comprehensive universities, and Cheryl and I are very excited for this opportunity to work with you and continue that amazing work to build this university,” he said.

Moments after making those brief remarks, Nook received a call from Gov. Terry Branstad, who congratulated him on a unanimous Board of Regents vote to extend him a three-year contract.

In his new role, Nook is to earn an annual salary of $357,110, plus standard benefits, presidential housing and a university car, according to an initial UNI appointment letter.

With a resume that includes experience as a physics and astronomy professor, department chairman, dean of undergraduate studies, provost, vice chancellor, senior vice president and most recently chancellor, Nook was offered tenure in his UNI appointment letter — something that wasn’t provided in Ruud’s contract.

Nook’s new salary represents a raise from the $198,000 he’s making in Montana and matches Ruud’s salary when he left. Wohlpart also was making $357,110 in his interim role but presumably would go back to earning $260,000 as provost, a position he began in May 2015.

Faculty union pleased

After Tuesday’s announcement, the UNI faculty union — United Faculty — issued a news release praising the decision as “consistent with the findings from our survey of UNI professors and instructors.”

The United Faculty survey sought feedback following last week’s public forums with all three candidates, and union President Joe Gorton said 177 of more than 550 faculty members responded.

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Nook, according to Gorton, garnered the most support among the finalists — although union officials didn’t make public full findings from its survey.

“I’m sure his experience in executive positions was an important factor in the board’s decision,” Gorton said in a statement. “But it’s also important that he is eager to have a genuine collaboration with faculty.”

A similar survey commissioned by the search committee gathered candidate feedback from all types of campus constituents. Those results also haven’t been made public, but the search committee received findings from both surveys and discussed them Monday.

The search committee then shared its collective thoughts with the Board of Regents, and the board conducted its final interviews with the candidates Tuesday before choosing Nook.

Following a contentious presidential search at the University of Iowa last year that prompted faculty and student votes of no confidence and a sanction from the American Association of University Professors, Gorton said Tuesday’s announcement reflects well on the regents and the search committee.

“I think the board and the committee deserve to be congratulated on a job well done,” Gorton said in a statement. “Their methods aligned closely with presidential search guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors.”

After the UI search, which landed businessman Bruce Harreld despite widespread criticism of his candidacy, UNI faculty were wary of the search for their campus. But, Gorton said, the board clearly weighed faculty opinion in its decision to hire Nook — something AAUP leadership said regents didn’t do with the UI search.

Thus, according to Gorton, the UNI decision could provide grounds for removing the AAUP’s UI sanction, which was directed at the Board of Regents for its disregard of shared governance values.

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“I think the national AAUP will definitely take it into consideration,” Gorton said in a statement. “After all, the sanction was primarily intended for the board as a way to encourage them to work in accordance with AAUP principles. This search process and the outcome achieved seem to demonstrate that we have achieved that goal.”

preliminary goals

After his introduction Tuesday, Nook laid out some preliminary goals for the campus, including growing enrollment and bringing back to excellence some of the university’s hallmark programs — like its teacher training. Nook also stressed the importance of asking the community what it needs from UNI.

“What are we looking forward to doing?” he asked. “First of all, listening a lot.”

Nook said he decided to apply because of his Iowa roots and passion for the Midwest.

“It really is about the quality of this place,” he said, noting the work he’s done recently in Montana trying to grow the economy and convince those who’ve left the state to come back. “I’m sitting there thinking, I’m a kid from Iowa ... I need to go help Iowa, if I can.

“So, the opportunity was just too right,” he said.

Nook earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Southwest Minnesota State University. He went on to earn a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His first professional position was with Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where he served as physics instructor. His public higher education career began at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn., as an assistant professor physics, astronomy and engineering sciences.

In St. Cloud, he also served as director of the observatory and planetarium, department chairman, secretary of the faculty, and dean of undergraduate students. He moved on to become provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where he then served as chancellor for a year.

Before he became chancellor at Montana State University Billings in 2014, Nook landed the senior vice president gig at the University of Wisconsin System, which includes two doctoral research universities, 11 comprehensive universities, and 13 freshman-sophomore colleges with a total enrollment of more than 182,000 students and 32,000 faculty and staff.

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In Billings, Nook faced the task of increasing enrollment, which reported a fall 2016 head count of 4,366 — a 1.4 percent drop from the prior year and a continuation of enrollment declines since a peak of more than 5,300 students in the 2010-2011 school year.

At UNI, Nook is going to face similar challenges around enrollment and managing a budget that relies on fewer state allocations. But Nook said he’s up for it.

“Increasing (enrollment) numbers will be difficult, but that’s a challenge not an excuse,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get a larger share.”

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