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Mark Kennedy: Merit raises at UND a high priority

The advisability of conducting another round of budget cuts and reallocations to provide for pay increases has resulted in UND facing its second year without merit increases for our faculty and staff.

This weighs heavily on my mind because I understand the impact on their family budgets and appreciate the vital role these individuals play in UND's ability to deliver opportunity to the state.

This elevates our resolve to ensure we are in a position to provide merit increases in the future. It is not appropriate to blame the Legislature for this circumstance, and I sincerely apologize if my words ever caused this impression. It's important to remember that just as UND was faced with a difficult financial reality for this biennium, so too was the Legislature. The economy of our state forced institutions at every level to endure hardship. All of us at UND are, always have been, and always will be, thankful for the support this state provides to higher education.

Now is the time for us to look to the future, toward the next legislative session, which will take place in less than a year's time. UND is committed to working with the governor, the Legislature, other schools and the state's business and civic organizations to achieve this state's strategic initiatives: diversifying and growing the economy, addressing deeply-rooted issues like behavioral health and addiction, and strengthening the North Dakota education system to produce the best leaders for our region's future.

We firmly believe we can play a critical role in these initiatives. We also know that role begins and ends with the people at this university, who can drive this progress forward. Therefore, it is UND's highest priority in the next legislative session to resume delivering merit pay increases to those who have dedicated themselves to this institution. The strength of our university is only as strong as the talented people whom we are able to attract and retain for this important work, and it is for this reason that our faculty and staff are paramount to our success. These are the people who will help our state accomplish its goals.

We are grateful for the relationship our higher education system holds with this state and the Legislature. It's a reflection of the importance North Dakota places on our institutions in addressing the issues of our communities. This recognition is not lost on those of us at the University of North Dakota.

We are excited at the prospect of facing these challenges head on, and we are proud of the people at UND that will help lead the charge.

Mark Kennedy is president of the University of North Dakota.