FARGO — North Dakota State University interim Provost Kenneth Grafton plans to step down at the end of the year, and a long-term successor could be in place by next summer, according to the school's president.

President Dean Bresciani said in a campuswide email on Monday, Nov. 25, that College of Human Sciences and Education Dean Margaret Fitzgerald will take over in the interim in January for Grafton, who initially took the job Aug. 16, 2018. Grafton will continue in his work as a professor in plant sciences, NDSU spokeswoman Laura McDaniel said.

“(Grafton) has done a phenomenal job against all odds,” Bresciani said in a phone interview with The Forum. “I don’t know anybody who would want to be seated in his chair during that period, and he has done it with grace and dignity.”

In an email to The Forum, Grafton cited personal reasons and the time needed to search for a provost as reasons for stepping down on Dec. 31.

"It’s an appropriate time," said Grafton, who has worked at NDSU since 1980.

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The nationwide search for a permanent provost will begin "almost immediately," Bresciani said in the email. The school hopes to have a provost in place in the summer, Bresciani wrote in the Monday email.

Bresciani said he had asked Grafton to stay longer, and he gave Grafton credit for staying on as long as he did.

“Ken has done the job well beyond what should be a reasonable timeline,” Bresciani told The Forum in a phone interview. “It should have been a half year, not a year and a half.”

Grafton’s decision came suddenly and developments are moving fast to work out the details of the search process, but the timing aligns with national practices of attracting candidates in the spring and having a successful candidate for the summer, Bresciani said.

'Others can and will judge my performance'

Grafton replaced former Provost Beth Ingram after she resigned in mid-2018. He held several positions before that, including vice president for agriculture affairs.

Provost can be a thankless job under normal circumstances, Bresciani said. One major challenge Grafton faced was finding a way to manage budget shortfalls caused by a drop in enrollment.

NDSU implemented a hiring slow down and called for voluntary buyouts over the last two years. Grafton also called on academic departments this fall to participate in an exercise to determine how staff would handle a 10% budget cut.

"I think everyone hopes they did their best and that’s what I would say," he wrote when asked how he felt he did as provost. "Others can and will judge my performance."

Bresciani praised Grafton for implementing "needed short-term budget cuts," as well as moving forward with NDSU's strategic planning and budget processes.

"Simply put, I’m not sure who else would have had the experience and patience to persevere under such conditions," Bresciani said.

Fitzgerald has been with NDSU since 1988 and has served as the head of the Human Sciences and Education College since 2016. She has “absolutely no interest in the role on a permanent basis,” Bresciani said.

"That was an important factor for me because I wanted to ensure that no candidates, whether internal or external, were advantaged or disadvantaged by whoever was the interim provost," Bresciani wrote.

Bresciani called Fitzgerald an exceptional leader.

“We all have critics out there,” he said. “I don’t know if she has any.”

The school will gather input on what stakeholders want in their next provost, Bresciani said. He said he would like to see someone who can bring the campus’s academic community together as it faces challenges seen in the state and across the nation.

“I’m going to weigh very heavily on the input I get from the faculty, staff and students at NDSU,” he said.