On June 18, 1909, Frank LeRond McVey became the fourth president of the University of North Dakota. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1893 and received his Ph.D. in economics from Yale in 1895. After a year teaching history at Horace Mann School in New York, McVey joined the University of Minnesota economics faculty, attaining the rank of professor. In 1907, he was appointed Chair of the Minnesota Tax Commission. During these years, he published three books, The Populist Movement, The History and Government of Minnesota, and Modern Industrialism.
McVey followed the accomplishments of a popular president at a time when the University was experiencing relative prosperity, as well as increasing enrollments. He believed in academic freedom and promoted his own vision.
“A University is a place; it is a spirit. It is men of learning; it is a collection of books; it is laboratories where work in science goes forward; it is the source of teaching and beauties of literature and the arts; it is the center where ambitious youth gathers to learn; it protects the traditions, honors the new and tests its value; it believes in truth, protects it against error and leads men by reason rather than by force."
McVey possessed a strong work ethic, beginning his day at 4:00 a.m. and was a skilled administrator. During his eight year presidency, he raised faculty morale while encouraging faculty research and publication. Both The Quarterly and the School of Education Record were established. He restructured the University upon a relational basis, thus the School of Mines, College of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, and a course in Civil Engineering formed the Division of Engineering. He instituted a variety of standards for students, including a "C" average for graduation. He acted upon his conviction that a University must serve the state and adopted the motto, "To Be the Servant of the People." UND established an Extension Division, offered correspondence courses and faculty lectures, and benefitted North Dakota through its research and investigative activities, particularly those of the weather station, Geological Survey, College of Mining Engineering, and the Public Health Laboratory.
Towards the end of his tenure, McVey also dealt with a number of financial and political issues surrounding both World War I and the rise of the Non-Partisan League in North Dakota. UND prepared to do its part in the Great War, and the state's political landscape changed. The NPL and its attempts to control the State Board of Regents became a central issue at the University.
In 1917, President McVey resigned his position to accept the presidency of the University of Kentucky. McVey’s presidency infused UND with a greater respect than previously enjoyed. His administration established scholarship standards for both faculty and students, a sound and coherent administrative structure, and an enhanced intellectual campus life, all while advocating an ideal of service to the state. The University "must be a beacon light to hold up the highest things for the city and the state."