Paul Todhunter, professor of Geography at UND and chair of the University Senate
Paul Todhunter, professor of Geography at UND and chair of the University Senate

Jeff VanLooy, associate professor of earth system science and policy at UND and University Senate's chair-elect
Jeff VanLooy, associate professor of earth system science and policy at UND and University Senate's chair-elect

Over the past several years, UND has endured multiple challenges that have caused campus morale to drop significantly. These include substantial budget cuts, challenges resulting from our transition to a new budget model, and a controversial leader who crafted and implemented a bold vision and comprehensive strategic plan for the university, but left many faculty feeling marginalized and unheard.

While the campus community, alumni and supporters know about these difficulties, they are probably not as aware of the many positive changes that have occurred and will be occurring on campus.

These changes fill us with hope for the future of UND, and we would like to share a few of the many reasons for our optimism.

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The North Dakota Legislature understood the need to provide a budget in which North Dakota University System faculty and staff received a 2 percent raise. By reallocating certain funds, UND administration provided an additional 2 percent raise, an increase that faculty will notice when they sign their new contracts.

The fall 2018 class of entering students was UND’s most diverse ever, with the second highest average ACT score and the most Presidential Scholars. These new students were the recipients of increased scholarship money, have access to unprecedented opportunities for undergraduate research and benefit from a renewed focus on high impact practices.

Furthermore, changes in the Registrar’s Office -- fueled by a focus on the student experience -- have facilitated the transfer of credits and made it easier for students to add a second major, minors and certificates to their program of study. These changes will allow students to better develop the interdisciplinary skills and knowledge needed for successful career placement. Physical infrastructure at UND is also undergoing enormous improvement. By spring 2020, the Chester Fritz Library will be nearing completion of a total transformation. A generous gift from the Gershman family will help develop a graduate student engagement center in the J. Lloyd Stone House for a growing and culturally diverse student population.

A new steam plant will save $1 million a year, beautify our university, open space for future development in the heart of campus and show our leadership in energy studies and environmental sustainability.

About $70 million in deferred maintenance was eliminated by the removal of inefficient, unhealthy and poor academic spaces, while selected old building treasures were identified for renovation into productive spaces. By reallocating funds, the university identified additional money to address critical deferred maintenance issues.

UND and the city of Grand Forks have an improved working relationship, as shown by the reconstruction of University Avenue.

And new Interim President Joshua Wynne found a way to reduce the cost that students will be paying for a new Memorial Union. These plans for the new student union will improve the campus appearance and draw more students to a central gathering space.

In two years, the heart of the campus will be completely transformed.

We have confidence in President Wynne, who has a record of administrative accomplishment at UND. He seems genuinely interested in listening to and understanding the concerns of the faculty, staff and students.

Likewise, the co-chairs of the Presidential Search Committee are two honorable people who have a close association with and care greatly about UND. Our experiences with these two individuals indicate that they are fully aware of the importance of communication and transparency in the search process, and they understand that it is critical to find a candidate who possesses the three C’s -- Character, Competence and Communication -- needed to lead the university.

With all of these positive changes, we feel as if UND has turned a corner. We encourage faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members and North Dakota residents to openly but respectfully voice their thoughts and concerns to President Wynne and the Presidential Search Committee, who are ready to listen.

Together we can move forward in improving upon a high-quality public university that we can all proudly call the flagship university of the state of North Dakota.

Paul Todhunter, a professor of geography at UND, is chair of the UND University Senate. Jeff VanLooy, a UND associate professor of earth system science and policy, is the University Senate’s chair-elect. The views they’re offering here are their own and are not necessarily those of the UND University Senate or UND.