MnSCU strikes gold with Gores

Dr. Connie J. Gores, who was named Southwest Minnesota State University’s new permanent president Tuesday fought off emotions a day later as she spoke at her official introduction in a crowded Student Center ballroom. She barely got into talking about the prairie and what it means to her before pausing to make sure she could hold those emotions in check.

That says it all.

“As I drove in (to Marshall) I was reminded of the beauty of the prairie and what the prairie means to me,” Gores said. “The prairie for me is about endless possibilities; it’s all about the future and building for the future.”

That MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone recommended and the Board of Trustees approved a female candidate not only cracks out a corner in the glass ceiling, it smashes it to pieces, at least locally, at a university where female students make up 58 percent of the student body. With the appointment, Gores became the second woman to be appointed the office of president at a Minnesota university, as the University of St. Thomas recently hired Dr. Julie Sullivan.

More broken glass.

MnSCU and the advisory board started with 47 candidates looking to succeed David Danahar as the next permanent president of SMSU; eventually, two rose to the top as finalists – Gores and Dr. Ronald Rosati. Both came with strong credentials and a solid background in education and administration. What separates Gores from Rosati and what makes her the wise choice, we think, is not just her familiarity with the MnSCU system, which is important, but her Midwestern values.

That’s not to say someone from the East or West wouldn’t do a good job – Danahar served SMSU more than sufficiently for a decade and saw the university through a major disaster in 2002 – but there’s something to be said about having one of our own in such an important position.

Gores, who has siblings who live in Minnesota, was raised on a farm in Cando, N.D., a small town in northern North Dakota with a population just a tick over 1,100, according to the 2010 census. Cando’s motto is the “Duck Hunting Capital of North Dakota.” Yes, she should fit in just fine in our prairie-dominated little corner of the state.

Having that Midwestern background, those deep roots, we hope, will be a driving force for Gores to allow time for substantial growth in SMSU’s agronomy program, which a few years ago was perilously close to being eliminated from the curriculum; it was on the proverbial chopping block – not the best of scenarios for a rural university whose home was literally a field of crops prior to it being built.

Farming is not just a business out here, it’s a way of life, and had SMSU’s agronomy program been eliminated, not only would that have been tragically ironic, it would’ve been embarrassing. Being a liberal arts university, SMSU’s ag program may not be the identity of the institution, but an ag program with muscle could be the ticket to keeping high school students who plan to pursue farming as a career to stick around.

Now, it’s up to Gores to make sure that program thrives.

And we think she will come through on the front as well as many others.

Rosenstone said Tuesday at the MnSCU Board of Trustees meeting that Gores is “clearly the right person for SMSU.”

He couldn’t be more right in our mind.