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McFeely: Heidi Heitkamp the obvious best choice for next UND president

Heidi Heitkamp

It's comical to hear North Dakota Republicans and their media friends lament that Colorado's selection process for university presidents is so unfairly political.

"Politics shouldn't have anything to do with it! It should be about getting the best person for the job!" they screech, the hypocrisy dribbling from their lips and onto their "Al Jaeger for Secretary of State" T-shirts.

Anybody who doesn't think their boy Mark Kennedy got the president's job at the University of North Dakota because he is a former Republican Congressman is as dense as somebody who doesn't understand that Colorado's higher education process is overtly and purposefully political. What gave it away for me was the regents run for spots on the board as Democrats or Republicans.

Kennedy was wholly unqualified for the UND job (just as he is wholly unqualified for the presidency of the University of Colorado system), but crony capitalism has its perks. Life is good when you represented Moonbeam Michele Bachmann's district in Congress and your path to the UND job goes through a search committee led by a lifelong Republican activist and a board of higher education dominated by Republicans appointed by Republican governors.

The difference between the politicization of North Dakota's and Colorado's higher ed systems is that at least Colorado is honest about it.

There's a way GOPers can put their Trump tax-cut money where their mouth is, though, if they want to show how non-political the higher ed process in North Dakota is: Recruit Heidi Heitkamp to be the next president of UND.

She is obviously a tremendously qualified person for the job, perhaps the best available. And isn't that the criteria y'all are looking for?

Heitkamp is a born-and-raised North Dakotan, a UND graduate, earned a law degree, has dedicated most of her adult life to public service for the state and served honorably as a U.S. Senator. She understands state government and the federal government, is well-connected in the private and public sectors, is personally well-liked by all but the most hyper-partisan hacks and would be a tremendous ambassador for the school.

She loves UND. Now that she's no longer a U.S. senator, she could admit she'd like nothing better than for the Fighting Hawks football team to trounce North Dakota State this fall and forever more.

Frankly, she'd bring some Heitkamp swagger to a campus that needs it, beaten down by Kennedy as it has been.

Here's a bonus, too: UND wouldn't be a stepping stone for Heitkamp. She wouldn't be looking for the next job, a la Kennedy, 15 minutes after getting this one. Heitkamp's decisions would be in the best long-term interest of the institution, not made to polish a resume before catching the next flight to Orlando or Boulder. UND might be the last job she ever holds.

I have no idea if Heitkamp wants the job, but all it would take is a phone call to her office at Harvard to find out.

The North Dakota Republicans who control higher ed just might find the best person for the job. Remember, that — and not politics — is what this is all about.

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