Back in April columnist Mike McFeely was busy gloating about the controversy over aggressive budget reforms being pushed at the University of North Dakota by interim president Ed Schafer.
“NDSU and the other schools, apparently, were in far better shape financially to weather a cut while UND’s budget was a trainwreck, thanks to now-departed president Robert Kelley and his administration,” he wrote. “This is difficult to swallow, I know, because the narrative has long been that Kelley was the quiet and humble man who flew coach while his counterpart at NDSU, Dean Bresciani, was the arrogant and wild-spending wannabe who flew business class. The truth is a little more inconvenient. While Bresciani was anticipating an economic slowdown and adjusting accordingly, UND was doing business as usual and overestimating the amount of money coming from the state.”
There’s no denying that former UND President Robert Kelley did a poor job, and left behind an enormous mess. It’s worth noting that Schafer identified deferred – some might say a better word is “neglected” – maintenance at UND as a big reason for that school’s struggles.
But Dean Bresciani’s water carriers might want to stop gloating. They have problems of their own, including a building that’s just 52 years old and a major fire hazard:
The president of North Dakota State University pleaded with the State Board of Higher Education on Tuesday, May 24, to request state funding for two capital projects that could have safety and accreditation implications at NDSU.
One of those projects is demolishing and rebuilding Dunbar Hall, the 52-year-old chemistry building that was overlooked for funding last legislative session.
“It is literally dangerous,” Dean Bresciani said to the board. “We’ve been informed by the Fire Department that in the event of a fire, they would most likely back away from the building.”
Fargo Fire Chief Steve Dirksen confirmed that is a possibility, “just knowing the building, the age of the building, the construction type, what’s in the building,” he said.
Sudro Hall on campus is also in poor shape. And don’t forget that Harris Hall made news not so long ago because researchers had to lug water because 60-year-old pipes don’t work. According to a North Dakota University System report in 2014, NDSU was in the worst position of all the state’s public institutions with $244 million in
deferred neglected maintenance, part of a $808 million total for all of the campuses combined.
Some will claim that this is the result of the Legislature not funding NDSU properly. But this simply isn’t true. Even account for a slight decrease in spending in the current biennium, since the 2005-2007 biennium general fund appropriations to the university system have increased by more than 130 percent, or by an average of about 24 percent per biennium. Full time equivalent enrollment during that same time period averaged just a 1.9 percent increase per biennium.
Schools like UND and NDSU have been getting plenty of money from the taxpayers, and from students too given that resident tuition at UND and NDSU increased by about 40 percent during that time as well. Who, then, gets the blame if these schools weren’t spending their dollars on maintaining their facilities?
“For years, UND has not had enough money. They’ve said, ‘We don’t have enough to do what we want to do,'” Schafer told the Grand Forks Herald in April, describing the financial challenges he faces taking over from Kelley. “They’ve said, ‘We will skim off maintenance and put it into operations,’ and so we have a steam plant that’s falling down.”
NDSU, unfortunately, has done the same thing, and now they have buildings figuratively falling down too. And no amount of sanctimony from NDSU’s sports fans and media mouthpieces can hide it.
UND is now on the path to fixing their fiscal issues because they have an interim leader in the president’s office who is willing to do the difficult work of reforming his school’s finances, and an incoming president who seems willing to keep at that work.
Meanwhile, Dean Bresciani’s style of leadership is whining for money money at State Board of Higher Education meetings.
When will NDSU get new leadership, too?