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N.D. LEGISLATURE: UND requests more funding

BISMARCK -- UND officials gave their budget presentation Wednesday before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, hoping to get more funding than recommended by the governor.


BISMARCK -- UND officials gave their budget presentation Wednesday before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, hoping to get more funding than recommended by the governor.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, who chairs the Education and Environment Division, has a reputation as a blunt critic of higher education, but he didn't do much of that at the hearing. He even praised the university at times for trying to be more efficient. "I'm accused of being hard on higher education, but I suspect you're hard on yourself, too."

The difference between what the State Board of Higher Education thinks UND's budget should be and what Gov. Jack Dalrymple thinks it could be is about $57.3 million, most of it in construction of new buildings or repairs to existing ones.

The state board's proposed budget is $214.2 million. The governor requested $156.9 million. Much of Wednesday's discussion was about the difference.

The subcommittee also listened to a budget presentation from North Dakota State University but did not engage in extensive discussion about either budget.


Criticism from the subcommittee had mostly a general tone, such as questions of whether the state university system was as efficient as it could be and whether the state was subsidizing education for out-of-state students.

Skarphol said he worried about the continually growing spending on higher education and felt the state ought to focus on the quality of education more than the quantity of it.

From fiscal year 1999 to 2009, state funding for the university system grew by about 37.3 percent, for example.

What, Skarphol asked, was UND's vision?

UND President Bob Kelley said the university does have to work in a competitive market, one of them being for students. Maintaining the quality of faculty and staff and the quality of facilities are important, he said. At the same time, UND does look at what it doesn't need to do as well, he said, noting that last year, it eliminated 12 courses that were no longer relevant.

"I don't know if I'm answering your question, Rep. Skarphol, but we worry about the same thing," he said.

Here are a few of the big projects UND officials talked about Wednesday.

- A bigger budget for the information technology facility that would serve the university system but be based at UND. The state board wanted $17.6 million. The governor called for $11.2 million. The board and UND now ask for $14.3 million, which excludes a lot of office and research space. In all cases, the system would give the university's data network a high level of redundancy.


UND President Bob Kelley and university system Chief Information Officer Randall Thursby both pointed to the disruption caused by the loss of Web access and e-mail that afflicted the Capitol and the shutdown of state websites Tuesday. A burned-out transformer in a wing of the Capitol was the culprit, and the information technology system housed there was not redundant enough to stay on.

- Funding for more office and lab space at UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center. Kelley said the institution, which gets most of its funding from competitive contracts and grants, needs the space to continue to grow.

The state board wanted $12.5 million, but the governor didn't request any funding, as the project was lower on the priority list than he was willing to go.

Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, said the EERC

doesn't do research for the state, so what advantage would it serve the state to fund the project?

Kelley said he's trying to bridge the EERC, which does contract work, and academics and students in other university departments, such as getting access to EERC labs for students.

- Funding for what are known as "mall to medium capital projects," which the governor didn't request at all. The top three for UND are improvements at Gillette Hall at $1 million, Starcher Hall at $1 million and Hughes Fine Arts Center at $800,000. Gillette needs some upgrades because of a new addition to the Education Building next door. The other two have outdated mechanical or electrical systems.

- Funding for new academic programs. There are 28 on UND's wish list, but the top three that Provost Paul LeBel talked about are a doctorate in nursing practice program at $1.7 million, a petroleum engineering program at $1.1 million and a molecular biology program at $1.1 million.


None are requested by the governor, but the state board recommends them.

LeBel said they address state needs and build on existing UND strengths.

- Not up for discussion was a proposed expansion of UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The state board had requested $28.9 million for physical addition to the school and $3.4 million initially to train more doctors, but the governor said it was just too much to ask the Legislature for.

Skarphol has a bill that would address the funding issue. House Bill 1353 would divert money from the tobacco settlement, now used to encourage smokers to quit, to helping the medical school train more doctors for the state's aging population. As voters agreed to use the tobacco settlement for tobacco cessation, this would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

The bill is scheduled go before the House Education Committee at 9 a.m. Jan. 31, Chairwoman RaeAnn Kelsch said.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

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