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MSU Billings

Officials overseeing Montana State University Billings won't move immediately to find a permanent replacement for former Chancellor Mark Nook, leaving an interim position filled for "the foreseeable future."

Nook left MSUB last week to become president of the University of Northern Iowa. Ron Larsen, who was an associate provost at Montana State University, started as interim chancellor at MSUB on Monday.

No date has been set to begin an official search for a permanent chancellor, and no committee has been formed to carry it out, said Tracy Ellig, executive director of communications for MSU.

"Dr. Larsen started serving today with a full agenda to continue to advance MSUB into the foreseeable future," Ellig said in an email.

Aaron Clingingsmith, director of university relations at MSUB, also used the phrase "foreseeable future" to describe Larsen's stay in a statement on Monday.

He added that there's "no expectation of a forthcoming chancellor search" at this time.

In the Montana University System, MSUB follows the leadership of MSU in Bozeman. MSU President Waded Cruzado will guide the chancellor search process.

The slow approach could mean that Larsen will remain at MSUB longer than previous interim chancellors. With an ongoing legislative session and a looming president search at the University of Montana in Missoula, the Montana University System has a full plate.

In the meantime, Larsen may be more than just a placeholder at the Billings university. Ellig said that Larsen will focus on enrollment and retention — two problem areas that have dragged on the school's budget.

Cruzado has expressed confidence in Larsen's ability at the helm of MSUB. She said in a Jan. 12 conference call with regents that the university is in good hands.

"Search processes are important and are good, but let's also make sure that we encourage people to reach out to our current leaders," she said. "Because they are the ones who, on a daily basis, fill that necessary foundation for whoever is going to come.”

Transition period

Larsen will be MSUB's fourth chancellor since 2010. 

Ronald Sexton became the university's first chancellor in 1995 after a reorganization and the university's name changed from Eastern Montana College. He announced his retirement in February 2010 and gave a notice of seven months.

By March of that year, Cruzado named an interim chancellor and plans formed for a search committee. At that same time, university system officials were looking to replace longtime UM President George Dennison, who also retired that year.

Rolf Groseth, who was the interim chancellor, took the oath for the full-time role in September 2010.

When Groseth announced his retirement in early January 2014, a search committee formed by the end of the month. At around the same time Groseth officially left office, Nook was named chancellor in May 2014.

Nook's departure left a smaller window. It was publicly announced Nov. 30 that he was a finalist for the UNI job. On Dec. 6, he was chosen as the school's president.

Cruzado acted within days to announce Larsen as interim chancellor, and he worked with Nook through January on the transition.

"I'm comfortable with them not taking a search immediately, so long as we're making progress," said Martha Sheehy, a member of the Board of Regents.

Sheehy, who works as an attorney in Billings, said that addressing issues like enrollment and program prioritization may be more important at this time. And if Larsen is empowered to carry that duty, she said she backs that plan.

The Board of Regents will eventually grant final approval when a permanent chancellor is chosen. But until then, much of the process is under the guidance of Cruzado.

“At this moment MSU Billings is one of our top priorities for Montana State University,” Cruzado said on Jan. 12.

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.