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OUR OPINION: A reaction to the REAC building's sale

Yes, indeed: The Research Enterprise and Commercialization (REAC) building may prove supremely useful to UND.

It's quite possible that the facility "will help support UND's mission of economic development for North Dakota, will provide practical, real-world experience for professors, graduate students and undergraduates, and will provide many opportunities for future growth and development," as Larry Skogen, interim chancellor of the North Dakota University System, and Robert Kelley, UND president, said in a statement Tuesday.

But there's just one problem: The usefulness of the building isn't the issue.

Instead, the issue is the method by which UND came to buy the building, as Skogen and Kelley know.

That's the issue which now has drawn the attention of state lawmakers. That's the question which a legislative committee has been a directed to review, and that's the issue which the president and interim chancellor now should address.

"North Dakota legislators will review last year's sale of a UND facility," reported John Hageman, Herald staff writer.

The REAC building "was sold by the UND Research Foundation, a nonprofit led by UND officials, to UND itself in September for $9.8 million.

"But legislators now wonder if that sale went through the proper procedures. They point to a bill signed into law last year that allows the State Board of Higher Education to conduct the sale of the REAC building."

At issue, as Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, pointed out, is whether students, taxpayers and other UND stakeholders are "well-served" when the university in effect negotiates with itself.

The 2013 law is clear: "The state board of higher education may enter a purchase and financing agreement ... and do all things necessary and proper to authorize the purchase" of the building.

In June, "Skogen signed off on the purchase terms and financial arrangements related to the sale," Hageman reported.

"A statement from NDUS said the higher education board authorized Skogen to do so."

So, is signing off on UND's purchase the same as the board itself doing the buying?

If the question is serious enough to draw lawmakers' concern, then it's serious enough for UND to re-evaluate its own decisions.

Maybe that re-evaluation will determine that everything was as it should be. But maybe not; and if the latter is the case, then UND should admit its mistake, in part because that's the way toward the university's crucial but never-ending goal: keeping the trust of and maintaining a good relationship with the Legislature.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald