Though the North Dakota Board of Higher Education briefly paused midway through its Thursday meeting to celebrate the passage of the higher ed budget, the gathering was otherwise business as usual.
During the hours-long meeting, board members approved a lease extension for the joint North Dakota State University-Sanford Health nursing school in Bismarck, signed off on the demolition of eight buildings on the UND campus while renaming its old medical school and tabled a resolution to officially sign off on the creation of a UND center focused on autonomous vehicles research. The board also unanimously agreed to terminate the NDSU College of University Studies, as well as a host of redundant program offerings at Dickinson State University.
Discussion was brief for many of the items on the board's agenda. The NDSU nursing school lease has been a point of some contention for lawmakers in recent weeks and, by the time the lease reached the SBHE, there wasn't much left to do but approve the document as written and thank those who had worked to bring it to fruition.
The discontinuation of the university studies college, a general education program and a means for students to build their own degree path, also went down with little conversation.
Board Vice Chair Don Morton, a former football coach at NDSU, drew some laughter from those in the meeting when he said his past as a coach meant he "love(d) this program and it has served us very well."
Still, Morton said, "It's time to move on and time to terminate this."
At UND, the decision to close buildings on campus has been a long time in the making. The eight buildings were identified in multiple master plans as candidates to be taken out of use. Most of the structures are already vacant. While those buildings are nearing the end of their lives, another UND structure has been given a new name to reflect a new purpose-and also a possible hint at its own future phase-out.
A building still known as the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences has been empty of aspiring doctors for more than a semester and is currently filling up with functions of the UND College of Arts and Sciences. It's also a few blocks away from a recently finished $124 million facility of the same name which now houses the med school's functions.
"There's now confusion on campus, as you could imagine," said board member Nick Hacker.
Following the suggestion of UND President Mark Kennedy, the SBHE agreed to rename the old med school building Columbia Hall, named after the building's frontage on Columbia Road. The new identify is a "bit of a generic name," Hacker admitted, saying the university wasn't going to spend much money on signage.
"They'll put a skin over old sign until they can find a more proper way of naming the building, maybe for a benefactor," he said.
However, that next step might not ever come to pass. Kennedy told board members the newly dubbed Columbia Hall is "perhaps only a temporary-use building."
"We didn't want a name that would gain a lot of attachment," he said. "In long-term plans, we have not decided whether we're keeping this building, which is why we chose a very generic name."
The issue of names came up again in relation to UND, though the second time around was more up in the clouds. Due to some concerns about the possibility of future legal action from a private organization with a similar name, the board voted to table a resolution which would have officially created the Institute for Unmanned and Autonomous Research, a university center intended to pull together a collaborative approach to drone programs.
Hacker said he'd heard an entity called the Unmanned Applications Institute, International, a Grand Forks-based UAS firm, had begun looking into hiring on legal counsel to address the overlapping elements of the two names.
Kennedy said he was unaware of the potential conflict but was "happy to check it out" and assess the need for any legal intervention. There were no objections on the board to the program itself and the matter will likely be picked up again at the May 15 meeting of the SBHE.
Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, praised the fledgling UAS initiative, saying UND was developing into a position which may be codified as the "executive agent" of the system's research efforts in the autonomous field.