PRESIDENT LARRY C. SKOGEN will retire from BSC on June 30, 2020. A Hettinger, N.D., native and career U.S. Air Force officer, he became the sixth president of Bismarck State College on March 1, 2007. The author of a legal history of federal Indian policy, as well as articles and reviews in historical journals, Dr. Skogen describes himself first and foremost as a historian – one of the things he will turn his focus to upon retirement.
WHAT FIRST DREW YOU TO THIS JOB?
I was the vice president for academics at the New Mexico Military Institute. I’d been there five years and had recently moved my parents from Arizona to the Black Hills. I thought, if I could find a job closer to them and home, I would apply just for the heck of it. So, I looked, saw the BSC ad, and thought that could be kind of fun. I left North Dakota in 1980; I was ready to come back.
WHO HAS BEEN MOST INFLUENTIAL TO YOU AS A PRESIDENT?
My biggest influence was Brigadier General Rodney P. Kelly. He always treated everyone with respect, which is not the case with all generals. He listened. He’s the one person I worked for and I said, ‘General Kelly is the guy I want to be.’ He had respect for everyone, whatever their position in the organization. He never held himself above the people who worked for him. We all would have taken the hill for him.
Of course, I learned a lot from negative leadership too — leaders who felt the only time that counted was their time.
From 1989-91, Skogen attended Arizona State University as a doctoral candidate in history.
I’ve had leadership opportunities that made a difference: When I was at the Military Institute, I was chosen out of 625 officers and faculty to get my Ph.D. Each division got to nominate two faculty members. It was pure luck the year I was selected. My division, the humanities division, got an extra slot.
Skogen earned full pay and benefits during his doctoral studies. The academy paid his tuition, books and fees.
I was the richest grad student on campus. It was always my turn to buy beer and pizza.
DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A COLLEGE PRESIDENT?
Not initially. When I left the Air Force, I wanted to teach history at the college level, but I never got an interview, despite the fact that I had a wonderful circle of mentors writing me reference letters. Finally, one of those mentors told me that faculty hire faculty. He said, ‘you know how to follow rules and impose order — be an administrator instead.’ I was hired for the first administrative position I applied for – Dean/VP at the New Mexico Military Institute. I had the opportunity to teach a little history and philosophy during that time.
WHAT DID YOU THINK THIS JOB WOULD BE LIKE?
I thought it would be a good opportunity to work with people. The way I see it, the campus hired me, and my job has been to serve the campus. I always have felt that the job of president is to provide resources and latitude for people to do their jobs. In the main, that’s worked out pretty well.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS BEING THE PRESIDENT OF BSC CHANGED YOU?
I have grown old in the service of my country here. I was a young man when I arrived — I was 55 years old, and I’m 67 now. I would hope I’m the same person as when I got here. The job isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s about the institution. I hope people will say when I leave that BSC is a better place than when I got here. I feel like I’m part of a well-oiled machine. My predecessors did a great job in setting up the college to go to the next level. I’m hoping that I set things up similarly for the next president.
WHO HAS BEEN A MENTOR TO YOU HERE?
[Bismarck legislator] Bob Martinson loves BSC and has been willing to use his influence to mentor me through [the legislative] processes. And Vern Dosch [retired CEO of NISC] has been a good friend who has been important to my success.
For the first eight or nine years, I had a kitchen cabinet that included Vern, Niles Huschka and Clay Jenkinson. It was good to have a non-threatening environment to talk about ideas and share thoughts.
[Retired senior VP] Dave Clark has been incredibly important to this campus and to me. He knows the ins and outs of state government and how the system works.
[Retired executive assistant] Debbie Van Berkom was great when I was coming in. She knew where all the bodies were buried. I was clueless – I didn’t know what I should know. She would tell me to go do this, to make sure I knew a certain person…These days [executive assistant] Janell [Campbell] keeps me on track.
I believe in management by walking around. And because of that, everyone’s been a mentor to me. I walk into offices and talk to people. That’s been really important.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
I’m proud of a lot of things. When I got here, people were still saying ‘high school on the hill’ or ‘high school with ashtrays.’ I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve left all that behind. Now they say, ‘wow that’s quite a campus up there!’ BSC is really on the map. We, as a campus, have moved from a negative attitude about coming to BSC, to an attitude of BSC pride.
I’m very pleased that the board has recognized BSC as a polytechnic. That is an accomplishment that is in the best interest of the college, the community and our students. We went from a junior college, to a community college, to a community college that offers four-year degrees and now to a polytech. It’s a great milestone to achieve.
When I got here, the talk of the community was that BSC needed to be a four-year college. Frankly, that made no sense to me… the last thing we needed was another four-year. As a polytech, we’ll be everything we are, plus more BAS degrees — meeting what the community wanted 13 years ago.
WHAT WERE THE HARDEST TIMES OF YOUR PRESIDENCY?
Our one really bad budget cycle hurt a lot. When we knew we had to cut our budget by 20 percent and we understood that equated to 52 people. I personally asked people to retire. We let go of a couple people when we eliminated positions. That was really hard.
The other day that is forever in my head is the day in 2011 that [Chief Buildings and Grounds Officer] Bob Kuntz died. He died out of the blue and totally unexpectedly. That was a terrible day.
WHAT HAVE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES BEEN?
The time just prior and during my time as interim chancellor – those were very hard times. I said at a meeting at one point, prior to my appointment, “If there’s any way that I can help, I will.”
Then I got a call asking me to be acting chancellor. After three months I was asked to serve as interim chancellor. I agreed as long as my contract allowed me to return to BSC. I didn’t come back to North Dakota to be part of the political process every day, which is what that is. I came back to be the president of BSC.
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST DAY?
My best day was in November of 2006 when the State Board of Higher Education offered me the job. [Former NDUS Chancellor] Eddie Dunn called me up. That was really an exciting day for me, personally, but I’ve been part of so many great days for BSC. The other day, the governor, two senators and the U.S. Secretary of Interior were all on campus and talking about how great it is to be at BSC!
We’ve had so many good days here: the first day of classes every year, commencement and shaking hands with our graduates, just going around talking to students, when we got funding for the Cybersecurity program, the day the governor signed legislation for $8.9 million for our health sciences building, when Governor Dalrymple signed legislation to finish the 4th floor of the NECE — I remember so well when that space was unfinished, and I’d pull a chair up to the windows and think, ‘how are we gonna get this finished?’
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THE NEXT PRESIDENT?
I would advise anyone who will be president to get out and around on campus. Get out and talk to faculty in offices, interact with students in the Union, attend the athletic events and concerts, go to the student art shows. I think that is so important. In a job like mine it’s easy to spend hours in the office doing what you’ve got to do, but interacting with the people working here and our students is important. They need to know who you are, and you need to know who they are and what their concerns are.
They used to call it management by walking around, and I do it because I like it. This week I was over talking to Rich Bahm in auto collision, and he told me about the wonderful opportunities his students are being offered – I don’t hear about that in a staff meeting.
WHAT'S SPECIAL ABOUT BSC'S STUDENTS?
I think our students are really genuine. They’re here regardless of age or income. They’re here focused on whatever their personal goals are, and those are so varied. I like talking to them, interacting with them – they are truly genuine people.
SINCE IT WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1939, EVERY BSC PRESIDENT HAS RETIRED FROM THE JOB. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS IS?
I think there’s a strong sense of community here. BSC is not a pass-through juncture in a career. The overwhelming majority of employees are committed to this institution and community. Maybe that’s why presidents stay to retirement. Another strength is that much of our leadership team is home grown and connected to the college and community. They aren’t recruited in, they’ve come up through the ranks, and that’s worked for BSC.
WHAT DOES RETIREMENT HOLD FOR YOU?
My real passion is historical scholarship. That was pushed to the side when I become an administrator. I started working on a history project in the early 1980s that’s still waiting to be finished. I hope to have the time to do scholarship. I have a lot of projects in my head – some Native American history, some history of North Dakota. I plan to stay here, but we’ll travel.
HOW HAS LIFE CHANGE FOR YOU?
When I began, I was part of a family of five – both of my parents and two siblings. Now I’m in a family of two, that’s part of growing older. I’ve seen my youngest son get married and have three children. I have six grandchildren, and I’ve reconnected with an old friend in Hettinger. We’re having the time of our lives together. I used to see my 60s and think ‘there’s not much left,’ but I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had.
WHAT WILL YOU MISS THE MOST ABOUT BSC?
Interacting with the students. They are why people are in education. They are our future, and to me, they are what it’s about. When we welcomed back our volleyball team [from the 2019 NJCAA Div II National Volleyball Tournament in Charleston, West Virginia] as a community, that epitomized exactly why we’re in education – to celebrate students. When I go to plays or concerts, I go backstage to talk to the young people and thank them. Those things bring me so much joy. I’m really going to miss the students.