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Kristensen rounds out final year as UNK chancellor

Kristensen’s last day as the chancellor will be May 31. Photo by Shelby Berglund / Antelope Staff

Doug Kristensen’s retirement at the end of this academic year will bookend his 22nd year as the chancellor of UNK, making him the University’s longest serving chancellor. Since taking on the position in 2002, he has witnessed the evolving landscape of UNK.

Kristensen said he looks back at the last two decades of his career broken down into seven year periods: a learning period, a planning period and an execution period.

“The first seven years were about learning the institution and figuring out who really makes the place,” Kristensen said. “The first student bodies that I had, I thought, ‘Oh man, I’m just so lucky.’ They were great. Turns out they’re always like that. They just have different names.”

Over the following seven years, his focus was on crafting plans to help UNK thrive with its own unique identity and strengths.

“I began to develop ideas about what to do with South Campus, or University Village, although we didn’t call it that yet,” Kristensen said. “Plans started, but we had to be patient.”

The final seven years, or the execution period, he witnessed the realization of these plans. The expansion of University Village and the advancement of the Health Science Education Complex stand as tangible outcomes of the labor invested in preceding years.

Yet, these chunks of time only account for the last 21 years of Kristensen’s career, not the final year.

“Year 22 has been the ability to sit back and reflect about how lucky we are and how much we really do serve the needs of the state,” Kristensen said. “Day in and day out, the campus is really strong. I guess, where I’ve spent my last year is in appreciation of where we’re at.”

Remaining in a position for this long is no small feat; numerous factors contribute to Kristensen’s enduring tenure at UNK. He says the biggest motivation is the students.

“The students are what keep you coming back in the mornings,” Kristensen said. “They remind you of optimism. They remind you of potential opportunities, and I get to see that everyday. That’s selfishly really good for me because students remind me perhaps some of the best days of my life.”

Kristensen’s life as the chancellor has brought significant visibility to him and his family. He can never fully clock out of this job, especially in public. Nevertheless, he has found great satisfaction in it.

“I don’t mind being visible,” Kristensen said. “I can eat, sleep and drink University stuff. I like going to Builders and staff members telling me their sons and daughters went here and how proud they are. That’s pretty cool.”

As he reflects on his time at UNK, certain memories stand out in his mind.

On the day of his first convocation, Kristensen recalls feeling nervous, but UNK greeted him with a warm welcome, causing him to “fall in love with the campus all over.”

He remembers the night men’s basketball made it to the Elite Eight, and describes it as “the most electric atmosphere I’ve ever been around.”

He reminisces about the relationships he made with the study abroad program and the faculty at Palacký University Olomouc in the Czech Republic.

Among his memories were a lot of firsts: the first KHOP cohort and the first homecoming lip sync competition.

This semester, on the other hand, is full of lasts for Kristensen, although he doesn’t have any big plans for retirement yet. His wife, Terri Harder, has served as a district judge for the past 25 years, and they are both scheduled to retire on the same day.

UNK has appointed Charlie Bicak as the interim chancellor after Kristensen’s retirement, a decision that has his complete support.

“It was a great choice,” Kristensen said. “I don’t have an ounce of hesitation. He’ll be really good at it.”

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Rachel Ostdiek
Rachel Ostdiek, Executive Editor
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