Asking The University System To Prioritize Projects Isn't Unreasonable

In a shining example of how the home town media feeds the problems in North Dakota’s university system by being everything but registered lobbyists for their local institutions, the Grand Forks Herald today gripes that the University of North Dakota law school refurbishment needs a specific appropriation from the legislature.

The North Dakota House’s higher-education funding bill both authorizes too little money for infrastructure projects and mandates too many delays in spending it.

Those are two good reasons why a conference committee should lean toward the Senate’s much stronger bill. Here’s a third:

Some of the projects can’t wait.

One of them is the renovation of the UND Law School — a project that lawmakers have put off for so long that further delays actually put the school’s national accreditation at risk.

The accreditation angle seems to be the scare tactic de jour for higher education apologists these days. We’re going to see it deployed in opposing the restructuring of higher ed governance as well, which the legislature sent to the ballot for voters yesterday.

But to the issue of funding for the law school, the Herald’s histrionics would lead you to believe that this project isn’t funded. But it is.

The university system came to the legislature with a laundry list of capital projects, but rather than funding every project the House has created a capital projects funding pool of a whopping $174 million. They identified that dollar figure as the total amount they wanted to spend, and then told the university system to prioritize their projects to fit that budget.

This ensures that trivial, cosmetic projects aren’t put on the same footing with needed projects. It also makes it more likely, though not certain, that any budget bloat in these projects is eliminated.

If the law school refurbishment at the University of North Dakota is such an urgent priority, then certainly the State Board of Higher Education can ensure that it gets a prudent amount of funding from this capital fund.

Assuming the fund survives intact in conference committee. The Senate, far more sympathetic to the university system, may end up enlarging the fund.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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