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​NDSU Budget cuts

| Letters to the Editor | April 19th, 2017

To the editor:

Budget Cuts to North Dakota University System Will Have “Long-Lasting, Perhaps Irreversible Impacts” on Quality of Higher Education and Economic Recovery in ND, say University Distinguished Professors.

Although some concern has been expressed, there should be an outcry of outrage from the citizens and students of North Dakota and the region concerning the deep budget cuts to the University System being proposed by Governor Burgum and the ND State Senate, and endorsed by the ND Board of Higher Education.

As senior faculty, we are deeply concerned that the extreme budget cuts being proposed – 20 to 30% for the upcoming (2017-19) biennium, after 5 to 10% cuts in the last year (2016-17) of the current biennium – will have devastating effects not only in the immediate term, but in the long-term may cause irreversible damage to the quality of Higher Education in ND.

The immediate impacts will be things such as hiring freezes and loss of faculty positions, resulting in cuts not only in the number but the quality of classes available to students. The number of classes will no doubt decrease because faculty with a particular specialty, or expertise, will be lost. Quality of classes will suffer as faculty are asked to pick up more classes and the size of classes increases. As you can see, the primary ‘losers’ in this scenario will be the students who we are supposed to be serving.

There seem to be many in state government who liken the running of Higher Education to private business, but in reality the two are very different. Private businesses, in the face of budgetary cutbacks, can choose to stop participating in some markets or cease producing some products. They also can raise prices, among other strategies, to withstand the adverse impacts of cutbacks.

These options are not possible in Higher Education, as universities have obligations for students already enrolled in programs and for research co-funded with external agencies, and raising prices (tuition) in the end only damages students and their families.

Cuts of 10% are difficult but manageable on the short term. Reductions in budget beyond that are draconian. The pressure placed on faculty to teach more and larger classes will negatively affect their ability to meet their research and outreach obligations.

Many faculty at UND and NDSU were hired specifically because of their research talents, and those same faculty are currently bringing in millions of dollars in grants to the campuses. Their expertise contributes not only to the quality of their teaching but serves as a critical resource to state. If the role of research is diminished those faculty will leave for institutions where they can pursue their careers. Not only will our ND students be losers but so will the infrastructure of the universities and the communities they serve as those research dollars dry up.

In the long-term, the proposed budget cuts will make ND a much less attractive place in terms of faculty recruiting. And because faculty do the ‘work’ (not only teaching, but also research, and outreach) of the universities, the end result will be that the State’s universities will lose their national and international reputations and, more importantly, not only will the quality of students graduating decline but those students who want a top-of-the-line education will go elsewhere.

It has taken decades to build our universities into the institutions they are today with nationally competitive research programs and a faculty that is competitive with peer institutions in other states. The budget cuts being discussed will end all of that, which brings us to the challenge faced by the Governor and the legislature.

Can they find a way to fund the universities through this difficult period without destroying them? If there ever was a time to use ‘rainy day funds’ this is it. The national economic future is brightening and it is probable that budget prospects will look much better in a year or two, but the deep budget cuts being proposed, if enacted, will make North Dakota’s future much less bright.

Allan C. Ashworth

University Distinguished Professor of Geology

North Dakota State University

Elias Elias

University Distinguished Professor of Plant Sciences

North Dakota State University

Neil C. Gudmestad

University Distinguished Professor of Plant Pathology

North Dakota State University

Thomas Isern

University Distinguished Professor of History

North Dakota State University

Kalpana S. Katti

University Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

North Dakota State University

Jo Ann Miller

University Distinguished Professor of Music

North Dakota State University

Lawrence P. Reynolds

University Distinguished Professor of Animal Sciences

North Dakota State University

Mukund Sibi

University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

North Dakota State University

William Wilson

University Distinguished Professor of Agribusiness and Applied Economics

North Dakota State University

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