University of Minnesota Duluth continues chancellor search, but details scarce

Staff are accepting nominations for the school's interim head through June 3.

University of Minnesota Duluth file (2)
An aerial view of the University of Minnesota Duluth campus.
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DULUTH — The University of Minnesota Duluth’s search for a new chancellor narrowed the pool of applicants to a few finalists but, ultimately, resulted in no new head for the school’s administration.

In a letter published Monday afternoon , University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel announced that the monthslong effort to replace retiring chancellor Lendley Black did not yield UMD's next chancellor.

“I imagine this news will inspire a range of emotions, but ultimately, it is an opportunity,” Gabel wrote. “The selection of UMD’s 10th chancellor is vitally important to me, my senior leadership team, our University System, the City of Duluth (which celebrated its formal incorporation 165 years ago last week), the State of Minnesota, and the world.”

A search committee of current and former administrators, officials and faculty recommended four people to Gabel. University staff published the names, photos and resumes of three of those people shortly before they began on-campus interviews late last month. University staff set up a form for students, faculty and staff to nominate an interim chancellor who’d head the campus for the next two years. Nominations are open through June 3.

University officials, though, haven’t disclosed many details beyond that about the search. It’s unclear, for instance, why the search didn’t produce a new chancellor or whether Gabel offered the job to any of the finalists. Staff at the university system’s headquarters in Minneapolis did not make Gabel available for an interview.


“What the University has to publicly share about the outcome of the search was said by President Gabel in her letter to the Duluth campus,” system staff wrote Tuesday.

Black announced his retirement in November . He said he plans to stay at the helm of the university until this summer or whenever his replacement can start.

Search committee

A few members of that 17-member search committee spoke with the News Tribune about Monday's news.

“The university recognizes that this position is an extraordinarily important position,” said Liz Wright, a search committee member who's a UMD professor of writing studies and president of the University Education Association–Duluth, a faculty union at the school. “And we had three really excellent candidates, but it’s so important that they just want to make sure they get it right. And so they just didn’t feel that the three people were right. Each of them had strengths, each of them was fabulous, but I’m really happy that the university is taking the chancellor position so seriously.”

The search committee itself focused on vetting the applicant pool and recommending finalists, according to Jill Doerfler, a UMD professor who heads its American Indian Studies department and also served on the search committee.

“And from there, the committee’s work is done,” she explained. “No one on the search committee can say anything about … why this process didn't yield a chancellor. We're not privy to those details.”

Wright and Doerfler both said they weren’t sure why none of the finalists ended up with the job, and Doerfler stressed that it’s also unclear if that’s because Gabel didn’t offer the job to any finalist or whether she offered it and it wasn’t accepted.

John Schwetman, an associate professor in UMD’s English department and president-elect of the faculty union, also wasn’t sure, but he noted that the union has decried, among other issues, what it sees as “inadequate” funding for UMD via the university system. He speculated that they might have given chancellor candidates pause.


Schwetman wasn’t a committee member, but he said it’s not strange that the search didn’t return a new chancellor.

“There are high-level administrative positions that turn out this way sometimes, and through … no fault of anybody’s,” he said. “You’re always competing against a few other people who are also offering jobs to them …. I don’t think there’s anything super anomalous about that.”

Doerfler had similar thoughts.

“This is such a specialized high-level job. It does take a very particular kind of person in order to be the chancellor,” she said. “And so, while it might seem surprising that a search process might not yield a candidate, it’s not entirely unheard of. This kind of thing happens … the higher up you go in positions, just the more difficult it is to find the right person for the job.”

The finalists

The three finalists university staff announced last month are:

  • Dale Whittaker, senior program officer lead at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Whittaker was the president of the University of Central Florida from 2018-19 and was a provost and executive vice president there for four years before that.
  • Corey King, vice chancellor for university inclusivity and student affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay since 2020. King was the vice president for enrollment management and student financial services at Bethune-Cookman University from 2019-20.
  • Debra Larson, provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University-Chico, a position she’s held since 2017. She was the dean of the college of engineering at California Polytechnic State University for six years beforehand.

None of the three named finalists returned News Tribune requests for comment Tuesday.

From the column: "Working at Ordean East cured my empty-nester impoverishment. It also gave me a bright awakening to what pulse the newer middle-school generation likes and prefers."

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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