OUR OPINION: Welcome to N.D., President Bresciani
Hearty congratulations to Dean Bresciani, whom the State Board of Higher Education named the new president of North Dakota State University. What an exciting time it is for higher education in the state, and what a pivotal time, too. The 2011 leg...
Hearty congratulations to Dean Bresciani, whom the State Board of Higher Education named the new president of North Dakota State University.
What an exciting time it is for higher education in the state, and what a pivotal time, too. The 2011 legislative session could be a turning point in the system's history -- and Bresciani's leadership will help determine which path lies ahead.
Will the coming age be one of retrenchment -- of a gradual or even sharp loss of the system's remarkable "flexibility plus accountability" gains?
That could be the outcome if Bresciani charges forward with arrogance or a sense of entitlement. For the reality is that lawmakers are frustrated. Their anger has been simmering for years: It showed up in 2007, when they cut the budget of the University System office by more than 3 percent from the governor's recommendation. It showed up in 2008, when a committee refused to nominate the Higher Education board's incumbent president, John Paulsen, for another term.
It showed up in 2009, when the Senate confirmed another board member for a second term "despite some senators using the occasion to bash the board and the University System," as Forum Communications reported.
"Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, voted to confirm but 'with all the celebratory enthusiasm of a retreat from Moscow,' blasting 'a system which has allowed itself to be a cocoon, isolated and insulated from the rest of state government.'"
And it showed as recently as May 12, when lawmakers openly vented at the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee.
"State legislators appear to favor removing flexibility from the state's higher education system in response to an audit that found violations in university building projects," The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reported.
The mood at the meeting ranged from bad to Bob Skarphol. That would be Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, who "said he believes that if a vote were taken in his district, citizens would overwhelmingly want to get rid of the state Board of Higher Education," according to the newspaper.
Clearly, Bresciani will do neither NDSU nor the university system any favors if he approaches lawmakers with haughtiness or defiance.
But to NDSU's great good fortune, that doesn't seem to be the new president's style. Judging by his presentations to the university and community, he'll tackle his new job with both the confidence to lead and the willingness to be part of a team.
Bresciani "said building resources requires relationship building with state leaders and re-establishing public trust," The Forum reported April 28.
"State Sen. Judy Lee of West Fargo asked Bresciani what he sees as NDSU's role in the university system.
"Bresciani said he's familiar with adjacent universities occasionally butting heads, but he prefers to work together.
"'By collaboration, we both get our jobs done better, we allow legislators to do their job better and we serve our states better,' he said."
If higher ed leaders want to regain lawmakers' trust, they'll have to move forward with exactly that kind of mutual respect. Again, congratulations to Bresciani, and welcome to one of the most exciting and dynamic systems in all of higher education.