Nursing School Drama Explains Why Dean Bresciani Has Been a Poor Leader for North Dakota State University

By all accounts, from sources both in the North Dakota University System and the Legislature, NDSU President Dean Bresciani has been relatively well behaved this legislative session. Gone are the condescending lectures to lawmakers during committee testimony. Gone is much of the hyperbole and ham-handed politicking.

Bresciani has seemed “chastened” this session, one lawmaker told me, and that’s perhaps not surprising given that his past behavior nearly cost him his job last year.

But that doesn’t mean the consequences from Bresciani’s past behavior are all behind us.

First, let’s go back to 2014 when NDSU entered into an agreement with Sanford to purchase the latter’s nursing school in Bismarck. There were a lot of concerns about the deal at the time. Like the fact that the North Dakota University System already has nursing programs, including one operated in Bismarck by Bismarck State College. And the fact that, while the deal between NDSU and Sanford would be revenue neutral in the beginning, ultimately it would require an appropriation of taxpayer dollars.

At the time State Board of Higher Education member Kathy Neset (today she’s the board president) questioned whether the deal ought to get approval from lawmakers since it would, in the long run, require taxpayer appropriations.

“I think it probably should happen, but as we bring a new college into our system it involves public dollars. Should we bring our legislature in to make a determination on this?” she asked at a board meeting back then.

The answer from Bresciani? Who needs lawmakers!

“I don’t believe we go to the legislature asking for a special accommodation for this,” he responded.

Bresciani, as well as then-Chancellor Larry Skogen and SBHE member Don Morton, were all members of Sanford’s various boards at the time of this decision.

Here’s video from the SBHE meeting where that exchange occurred. The board ultimately approved the purchase, which allowed Sanford to dump an unprofitable nursing school on the taxpayers while still benefiting (in some ways exclusively) from the graduates of that school (see the documents below which includes the agreement between Sanford and NDSU).

Oh, did I mention we’re paying about $387,000 per year in rent to Sanford for the facility?

That may have been a mistake. Fast forward to 2017 and – surprise! – lawmakers are balking at approving a $3.5 million appropriation, a painful dollar figure at a time when budgets are tight. An amendment has been offered to SB2003 which would transition the school back to Sanford.

“The amendment language says $3.5 million in operating funds would be cut and neither the board of higher education or NDSU could expend any funds, including private funding received directly or through a foundation, to pay the costs of running the program,” KFGO reports.

The amendment hasn’t been voted on by the committee as of yet, but the fact that NDSU is in this position is entirely Bresciani’s fault.

This exact sort of dismissive attitude toward state lawmakers is why Bresciani has been a poor leader for NDSU. Can anyone blame lawmakers for being upset at being obligated to fund a duplicative nursing program without so much as a consultation?

The amendment has not been acted upon as yet. It’s set for a committee hearing today.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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