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VIEWPOINT: Keep open mind on higher-ed budget request

BISMARCK -- When I became chancellor of the North Dakota University System 11 months ago, my pledge to the people of North Dakota was to listen to our many internal and external constituents and to engage in a statewide dialogue about the role an...

BISMARCK -- When I became chancellor of the North Dakota University System 11 months ago, my pledge to the people of North Dakota was to listen to our many internal and external constituents and to engage in a statewide dialogue about the role and expectations of the university system.

During this short period of time, I have learned a great deal. Clearly, there is tremendous support for our state system of higher education. There also is a strong need to provide objective, accurate information about the vision and direction of the system.

To that end, I plan to submit a series of columns to statewide newspapers during the coming months. They will focus on many dimensions of the university system, such as the system's relationship with the state, the system's achievements and challenges and its commitment to student success.

I believe this discussion will help North Dakotans gain a better understanding of the complex and dynamic organization that is our university system.

Before I begin this series, however, I believe it's important to address two key issues that have drawn significant attention in recent weeks: the role of the State Board of Higher Education in governing the 11 state colleges and universities and the system's 2009-11 budget request.

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State Board of Higher Education members are constitutionally mandated to submit to the governor and Legislature a needs-based budget request. They must consider the budget proposal on the basis of how the system can best respond to state needs and public expectations.

This planning process is conducted in an open environment and reported on by the media. State board members appreciate and respect the public nature of their work; they also understand the importance of having full knowledge of the background information on which those decisions are made.

During the past 11 months, I have gained a deep appreciation for the current members of the board and their tremendous commitment of time and energy to doing what's right for our students and the system as a whole. This is a forward-thinking group of lay citizens, and its members are dedicated to the future of our state and its people.

As the board continues discussion of the 2009-11 university system budget request, I respectfully ask North Dakotans to keep an open mind about initiatives included in this plan. These initiatives have been developed in direct response to needs expressed by legislators, business leaders, state colleges and universities and the parents and students who share the cost of higher education.

The budget proposal includes funding to increase state student financial aid, hold down the cost of tuition, respond to work-force needs, enhance campus security, improve faculty and staff salaries and address other urgent needs.

The budget proposal continues to move through the board review process and soon will be complete. Then, the final budget proposal will be provided to the governor and the Legislature, where it will be discussed, analyzed and acted upon.

I am committed to helping North Dakotans become more informed about this process so they can consider the budget request from the perspective of its potential to drive our state's economic development and prepare students to compete in an increasingly global society.

I look forward to the chance to describe to North Dakotans the strengths and challenges of the state university system.

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Goetz is chancellor of the North Dakota University System.

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