- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer will be the highest-paid administrator at the state’s 11 public colleges when he takes over next month as interim president of the University of North Dakota.

The state Board of Higher Education last month unanimously approved Schafer’s appointment to take over on temporary basis when UND President Robert Kelley retires on Jan. 14.

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott and Schafer signed a contract Wednesday that calls for the former Republican governor to work from Jan. 15 to June 30 at the Grand Forks school. Schafer will be paid $33,216 monthly, about $2,250 more a month than Kelley, who currently is the highest paid among the state’s university presidents.

So what will the university get for its money?

“Every minute of my time,” Schafer told The Associated Press on Friday from his home in Fargo.

Schafer said he declined health care coverage under the terms of his contract, which he says makes his salary commensurate with Kelley’s.

Hagerott said he made the salary offer to Schafer.

“He never asked - I set it,” the chancellor said. “It came from me, not him.”

Schafer’s temporary salary also is about $2,000 a month higher than Hagerott’s, who is paid $372,000 annually.

“I’m OK with that,” Hagerott said. “I wanted to be clear that we value him as a former governor and his insight and stability.”

Schafer, who was governor from 1992-2000 and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 2008-2009, will face an immediate challenge as the temporary president, including a reported $5 million budget shortfall at the university.

“He will be laying the groundwork to get that in line,” Hagerott said.

Schafer has a bachelor’s degree from UND in business administration as well as a master’s degree from Denver University and two honorary doctorates, including one from UND.

Schafer was a businessman before he became governor, working at a household products business founded by his late father Harold Schafer, who also is credited with developing the southwestern Badlands community of Medora into North Dakota’s leading tourist attraction.

Ed Schafer later founded Fish ‘N Dakota, a fish farming business near Beulah. Schafer used it as an example of his business expertise during his 1992 campaign for governor. But the farm’s financial problems caused Schafer a number of political headaches during his first term, and Democrats talked about its unpaid bills during his successful 1996 re-election campaign.

Schafer eventually settled his debts, estimating he lost $3 million on the venture.

Most recently, Schafer this year completed a four-year term on the board of Continental Resources Inc., among the state’s largest oil producers. As part of his director’s compensation, Schafer got stock shares in 2011 that were worth more than $770,000 at the time.

Schafer said he has “no designs” on a permanent position at UND.

“Someone coming in needs to make a long-term commitment to the university,” Schafer said. “I can’t commit to being there for 10 years and I don’t have an interest in doing so.”

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