Edward T. Schafer, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under George W. Bush and former North Dakota Governor, officially starts as the Interim President of the University of North Dakota Today, Friday, Jan. 15. A UND alum, Schafer follows Dr. Robert Kelley, who started as UND’s 11th president in July 2008 and who retired Thursday, Jan. 14.
Born and raised in Bismarck, N.D., Schafer graduated from the UND in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and earned an MBA from the University of Denver in 1970. UND awarded Schafer an honorary Doctor of Letters in 2008, and the UND Alumni Association & Foundation awarded him the Sioux Award in 2009.
Schafer was sworn in as the 29th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Jan. 28, 2008. As Secretary of Agriculture, he oversaw a $95 billion operating budget and over 107,000 employees. He restructured and reshaped 29 agencies to modernize the focus of $285 billion in program delivery and built a new process for implementing the 2008 Farm Bill. He also initiated the Secretary’s Fight Hunger Initiative, directed the United States’ response to the World Food Crisis, and helped direct international trade negotiations on behalf of the federal government.
Schafer served as North Dakota’s governor from 1992 to 2000, making education the number one priority of his administration, during which time his administration was able to increase spending by reshaping the budget to reflect spending priorities. He also started the Education Roundtable, which led to the modernization of the system in North Dakota, and he co-founded the Western Governors University. Other administration priorities included diversification and strengthening of the economy and reducing the cost of government. He also led efforts to upgrade North Dakota’s communications infrastructure and make high-speed voice and data networks across the state.
As governor, Schafer oversaw a budget of $4.6 billion, and led the state’s response to emergencies such as the severe flood that hit Grand Forks and the northern Red River Valley in 1997. Schafer, who visited Grand Forks and the University of North Dakota at the most critical point in the flood disaster, was instrumental in marshaling and mobilizing North Dakota resources, including the manpower of the North Dakota National Guard, to help the Grand Forks area, including UND, manage the flood and its aftermath.
Schafer chaired the Western Governors Association, leading efforts to demonstrate how technology could improve the efficiency and lower the cost of delivering government services, and he was elected chair of the Republican Governors Association in 2000, co-founding and co-chairing the Governors Biotechnology Partnership to increase public understanding and support for the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.
Before entering public life, Schafer was an executive with the Gold Seal Company in Bismarck, a successful marketer of nationally-known consumer products such as “Mr. Bubble” bubble bath, “Glass Wax” glass cleaner and “Snowy Bleach.” The company had been founded by his father, Harold Schafer. Ed Schafer joined Gold Seal after he earned his MBA and held a series of management positions with the company before becoming president in 1978. Under his leadership, Gold Seal’s sales doubled and the net worth of the company tripled. It was sold in 1986. Schafer then went on to launch several new businesses, including a commercial real estate development company, a fish farm and a classic car dealership.
After leaving office in 2000, he co-founded Extend America, a venture capital-backed company, to provide wireless voice and high-speed data services to commercial and residential customers in five rural Midwestern states. He also continues to serve as the chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation that oversees the operations of the historic town his father resurrected, and he became active in leading several other nonprofit and citizens advocacy groups in North Dakota.
Schafer and his wife, Nancy, have four children; Tom Schafer, Ellie Schafer and Eric Jones and Kari Hammer; and 13 grandchildren.