Bresciani: NDSU preparing for even deeper budget cuts

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FARGO—North Dakota State University administrators are preparing contingency plans for a budget scenario that could be as much as 15 percent below current levels to gird for the possibility of more financial belt-tightening.

President Dean Bresciani told leaders of the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association that he has directed his campus to prepare for a possible budget with funding levels of 85 percent of current levels in case cuts must be made beyond the 90-percent levels already directed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

"Obviously we're preparing for a 90-percent budget and at this campus we're preparing for an 85-percent budget," Bresciani said on Friday, Nov. 11, adding that it is better to be prepared in advance.

Bresciani told members of the foundation and alumni association's executive governing board that, if required, the additional 5 percent in cuts would be much more painful and damaging than a 90-percent budget, which at NDSU should not require layoffs or elimination of academic programs.

The depth of the cuts won't be known until the North Dakota Legislature convenes in January, and as the state's revenue picture clarifies, Bresciani said in an interview. Legislators and the state Office of Management and Budget will determine the level of funding for the 2017-19 biennium.

By taking early steps, Bresciani said, NDSU was able to soften the impact of budget austerity steps contemplated so far.

To meet the 90-percent target, NDSU plans to trim $15.7 from its budget. Administrators are reviewing 90 applications for buyout incentives from faculty and staff.

In other developments, Bresciani said early signs point to robust enrollment next fall, with a possible "substantial" increase. But he cautioned that it's still early and that admissions staff will have a better reading in a couple of months.

Enrollment this fall was about the same as in 2015, nearly 4,000 students short of Bresciani's goal of 18,000 by 2020. Increased enrollment would help solve the state's shortage of skilled workers, he said.

"The numbers are running way ahead of last year," Bresciani said, adding that he was hesitant to specify how large the increase could be.

Next week, the State Board of Higher Education will decide whether to extend Bresciani's contract. Bresciani's role in a controversial, and discarded, media access policy for covering Bison football and basketball, was the subject of an independent review.

A lawyer hired by the North Dakota University System concluded Bresciani could have done a better job in communicating his position, but found his remarks were not deceptive and he did not violate any policies.

Bresciani has received resolutions of support from students, faculty and staff, but not the NDSU foundation board. Regardless, foundation members and alumni are strongly in support of Bresciani, said Steve Swiontek, chairman of the executive governing board.

"People are reaching out in their respective ways," by writing letters of support or contacting state higher education board members, Swiontek said.

Problems cited by the board, including Bresciani's communication skills, can readily be improved, Swiontek said. "The concerns the board had are coachable items," he said.