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Northwest Tech to become Bemidji State University's fourth college?

BEMIDJI - The university president here is proposing a study into whether Northwest Tech should become a fourth college under Bemidji State University.

Richard Hanson
Photo courtesy of Bemidji State University

BEMIDJI - The university president here is proposing a study into whether Northwest Tech should become a fourth college under Bemidji State University.

In a memorandum earlier this week to BSU faculty leaders, President Richard Hanson said a study group should examine the idea, in part because the "financial health of NTC is soft and the institution is underperforming." Hanson met with NTC faculty in mid-March.

The memo, which spells out five "assumptions and facts" and a four-point action plan, was delivered by Hanson during a Wednesday "meet and confer" meeting with the BSU faculty association's executive committee.

Hanson's action plan calls for a series of open forums on both campuses and the establishment of a study group to analyze the issue.

"Several years ago a decision was made to align BSU and NTC, although the precise definition of alignment was never developed," Hanson wrote. "Since that decision and over time, all of the 'backroom administrative functions' for the two institutions are shared (president, financial aid, student life and enrollment, institutional research, IT, budget and finance, human resources) except for Academic Affairs."


He further stated the budgets for the institutions come from the Minnesota State College and University system as one institution.

"I think what (President Richard Hanson) has put forth is an invitation for a conversation ... to initiate a charge to create a study group, with faculty, staff and students, to look at what might be the next step in alignment for BSU and NTC," Scott Faust, director of community and marketing, said Friday afternoon.

"I think, certainly, President Hanson wants to explore what advantages there might be in some level of integration in academics, but what exactly that would be or what it would look like, or how it would be implemented, is unknown at this time."

Hanson, out of the office until Tuesday, did not return a cell phone message seeking comment Friday afternoon. Martin Tadlock, provost and vice president for academic affairs, likewise was unavailable until Tuesday.

Faust said Hanson plans to meet with MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone in about two weeks to discuss the matter.

"We're part of MnSCU and MnSCU will be kept informed throughout the process," Faust said.

Christopher Brown, president of BSU's faculty association, emailed Hanson's memo and revised minutes of the meeting to association members Thursday morning.

The Pioneer obtained a copy of the email Friday morning.


"It seems NTC is in significant financial straits," Brown wrote in the body of the email message. "So much so that the administration had to 'loan' NTC $600,000 to remain afloat this year."

Bill Maki, vice president for finance and administration, said that is not accurate. He said the institutions are now planning a budget for fiscal year 2013-2014 and staff is anticipating that BSU will need to loan NTC some money.

But while that loan could be as high as $600,000, Maki said the Legislature is still in session, appropriations have yet to be finalized and enrollments are not yet known.

"There's a lot of variables in play," Maki said.

Any shortfall for next year would primarily be due to fluctuating enrollments, Maki said. Enrollment this year is 785 and last year it was 848. The year before that, it was 918.

But decreasing enrollment is not necessarily a trend, Maki said. In 2005, enrollment was 730 before increasing.

"It's declined over the past couple of years, which means less tuition dollars," Maki said. "We need to be responsible and look forward."

In his email, Brown asked faculty association members to review the documents, consult with one another and talk to association senators -"so that we may deliver a measured response to (Hanson's) ideas" - in advance of the senate's Monday meeting.


"This is serious folks and could have staffing implications now and in the future here and throughout the system," Brown wrote in the email body.

Brown could not immediately be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

The study group, per Hanson's proposal, would begin its work this spring, present a midyear report in 2013-2014, and make a non-binding recommendation to Hanson by next Feb. 1.

Faust said the goal of the process is to not just find efficiencies, but to strengthen both institutions while also maintaining individual identities.

"I think it's very exciting," he said. "I think there's a lot of creative ideas that will be coming from this."

A 'transparent' process

One of the issues to be explored by the study group is whether, if NTC does become a fourth BSU college, there is a need for two academic affairs offices, according to revised minutes of Wednesday's meeting.

According to the minutes:

Brown said the university faculty does not want BSU harmed by the proposal.

"Obviously we need to take your proposal back to our constituency and see what they say, but what if the decision is to disengage from NTC?" he said.

"I see this as an opportunity to create something new," Hanson is recorded as saying. "A new approach is needed. I really want to see some creative recommendations, the way we look at degrees for example."

When asked how members of the study group would be selected, Hanson said he did not know but was seeking "an assent to a process" at this point.

Thomas Frauchald, treasurer of the faculty association, said he did not believe it could assure an assent to the conclusions to be derived from the study group.

"One thing I would ask is that it be (a) process that is transparent and not backroom-like," the minutes read. "I think there needs to be a faculty role in this, there is curriculum involvement here, and because of the curricular ramifications this is a big deal."

Michael Murray, vice president of the faculty association, asked what other proposals were considered other than bringing NTC under BSU as a fourth college. He also asked for cost savings that might be derived from such a move.

Hanson said he did not know the answer to the costs question but said he wanted to continue forward with the proposal to form the study group so he can see what it produces.

"I don't see people willingly sacrificing themselves for this proposal," Brown said. "They won't self-sacrifice themselves for a merger. This will open up some old wounds from the recalibration."

In February 2011, Hanson unveiled his recalibration plan for BSU and NTC, aiming to save $5 million over 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Those cuts included the elimination of the massage therapy and environmental landscaping programs at NTC and the art history and theater programs at BSU.

Tadlock, the provost, said he has seen examples where such a merger of institutions has proven beneficial and suggested there may be best practices to draw upon.

"We have to do something," Hanson said. "We cannot do nothing."

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