Introducing President Nook
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Mark Nook officially stepped into the role of UNI president yesterday amidst a multimillion dollar de-appropriation to UNI’s budget, proposed legislation that could impact faculty and controversial executive orders coming from the White House.
The former chancellor of Montana State University Billings is UNI’s 11th president as of Feb. 1.
According to Nook, diversity will be a major focus as he begins his tenure as President.
“We need to have an international campus,” Nook said. “We need to have a diverse campus, and we need to make sure all the students are safe and have an equal and equitable opportunity to succeed when they’re here.”
Nook addressed one of President Donald Trump’s most divisive orders: his temporary ban on various types of travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
In a joint statement sent to students on Jan. 30, then-incoming President Nook and then interim President Wohlpart advised that all UNI faculty, staff and students not travel to the countries enumerated in President Trump’s executive order as they may not be able to get back into the United States.
“I think the important thing—especially when we think about this hiatus, this ban—is to go back to our first principles within our university,” Nook said. “The number-one item in our strategic plan is diversity and inclusivity. As a campus, we believe in that.”
According to Nook, diversity will play a critical role in the future of UNI.
“It is important in this day and age that students understand and learn about different cultures and how to work with them,” Nook said. “We can’t possibly send every student to a different culture and so it’s important for us to have an intercultural campus—a campus that’s diverse, a campus that supports that diversity—that supports all students of all backgrounds, including international students.
“It’s important for us to take—what is a federal law now—and say ‘How can we help students, faculty and staff that are directly impacted?’” Nook said. “How can we make sure they can continue their studies and continue their work.”
Nook will have to address faculty concerns as well. A bill introduced a couple weeks ago by state Senator Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, which seeks to eliminate tenure.
Nook said tenure is critical to the integrity of a university.
“I believe strongly in tenure and it is essential,” Nook said.
“There are several things that loss of tenure would impact: number one is that it will impact our ability to recruit and retain faculty, there isn’t any doubt about it,” Nook said.
According to Nook, if tenure was eliminated it would severely impact the ability of UNI to serve its students. Nook received overwhelming faculty support during the interview process and spoke strongly about the defense of tenure.
Nook will face funding challenges stemming from a deappropriation of $2 million from UNI’s budget passed Jan. 31. University of Iowa and Iowa State University each were handed down $8 million in cuts.
Nook acknowledged that UNI has had trouble with getting full funding in the past and addressed his strategies to improve funding. Nook explained that he would like to continue some of the good work already being done in the State House by legislators and others to help the Board of Regents and the Governor’s office understand the unique position of UNI.
According to Nook, UNI’s service to primarily Iowa students is a factor in convincing Iowa legislators to support UNI’s unique funding needs. “We do need to grow our non-resident student population because it helps us pay for things—for one—and it also grows our diversity,” Nook said. According to Nook, fundraising will also be a critical factor in improving the university budget.
Nook explained that he likes to analyze the numbers involved in all these issues and use them to help improve UNI. “I’m extremely data-driven,” Nook said. “I’m a physicist, mathematician and astronomer, so we will be watching the numbers, but in the end, it’s about people and people aren’t numbers.”