5 things to know today: Dropping majors, Fufeng project, Google settlement, Early primary, Safer alternative
A select rundown of stories found on InForum.
1. NDSU plans to merge academic colleges amid budget cuts
North Dakota State University will look to merge some of its academic colleges and departments, and eventually eliminate some majors and programs, to prepare for funding cuts.
President David Cook made the announcement on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in an email to the campus community.
Cook said the university will aim to reduce its seven academic colleges down to four or five , and he wants feedback from people on campus on the best way to do it.
“It’s kind of the first step in a pretty tough journey over the next couple of months, but I think it's going to set us up for a lot of success moving forward,” Cook told reporters during a news conference after the announcement.
Cook did not address the question of whether the budget cuts or university reorganization will lead to layoffs.
Cook said cuts to NDSU athletics are possible.
“Everything is on the table,” he said.
2. Hoeven, Cramer worked to oppose Fufeng project behind the scenes, emails show
As scrutiny of the proposed Fufeng corn mill mounted, North Dakota’s two U.S. senators privately urged Grand Forks officials to abandon the project before a national security review yielded any results, according to records obtained by Forum News Service.
Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer say their conversations with city and state officials were attempts to raise legitimate concerns about a Chinese-owned company operating near Grand Forks Air Force Base and a nearby aerospace business park.
City leaders expressed confusion and frustration over the Republican senators’ decision to oppose the project before the conclusion of a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which Hoeven and Cramer helped to initiate.
“It makes no sense. It’s illogical,” Grand Forks City Council President Dana Sande said of the senators’ timing in dismissing the controversial project.
Email records also reveal Hoeven’s office appeared to have worked with a private aerospace company on a press release critical of the Fufeng project, though Hoeven and the firm deny the involvement of the senator's employees.
The Republican senators’ objection to the project, which is now fully public, has lent two influential voices to a fervent local opposition that continues to sound alarm bells over Fufeng’s Chinese ties. The proposed mill, first announced last year, has drawn backlash from across the U.S. as the country’s relationship with China grows increasingly strained. Among the concerns are the proposed plant’s proximity to the base, prompting some to worry that the plant could be a security concern.
The project remains in limbo as city leaders await the results of the much-anticipated federal CFIUS review.
3. North Dakota to receive $4.1M from Google in location-tracking settlement
North Dakota will receive $4.1 million from Google as part of a massive settlement with the tech giant over its improper tracking of customers, said Attorney General Drew Wrigley on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
Google will have to pay $391.5 million to 40 states according to the agreement, which Wrigley called "the largest multistate Attorney General privacy settlement in the history of the U.S."
Investigators found that Google was recording the movements of customers even when users explicitly asked not to be tracked. The "deceptive" practice amounted to a consumer protection issue, Wrigley said.
The settlement requires Google to be more clear with users about its location-tracking practices.
4. Decision on early Minnesota presidential primary could come this week
Minnesota could soon know whether it will be among the first states to hold presidential primaries starting in 2024.
A key panel of the Democratic National Committee is meeting Thursday to decide which states it will choose to hold the early electoral contests that can end up shaping the major party nominees for the nation’s highest office. The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws committee in June picked Minnesota and 16 other states as finalists.
In their pitch to the national party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party has presented Minnesota as “Democracy’s North Star,” highlighting the state’s high voter participation, civic engagement, a concentration of rural Democratic voters, growing ethnic diversity and strong LGBT community.
“While nothing is certain yet, I believe Minnesota's high voter turnout and strong tradition of civic engagement makes us a top contender to be one of those four early states,” DFL chairman Ken Martin said in a news release. “Plus, presidential primary candidates who can win Minnesota will be well-positioned to win their general elections, too.
"After all, to be successful in Minnesota, candidates need to win over voters in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and they will need to appeal to an electorate that is rapidly diversifying.”
DFL Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and incoming Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic sent a letter to the DNC this November pledging to pass legislation to move Minnesota’s primary to an earlier date if national leadership picks the state.
5. NDSU students bioengineer environmentally safe textile dye
There’s an often-overlooked problem associated with making brightly colored clothing: the dyes contain toxins and cancer-causing chemicals that pollute the environment.
Coming up with a safer alternative, however, poses major technological challenges.
A team of science students at North Dakota State University set out to solve the problem by creating an environmentally safe textile dye — and in the process earned a gold medal in an international collegiate genetic engineering competition.
The NDSU students entered their project in iGEM Foundation’s Grand Jamboree international competition, where their entry won a gold medal, the highest tier of recognition, in biomanufacturing.
“They did fantastic,” said Barney Geddes, an assistant professor of microbiology at NDSU and the team’s faculty adviser. “The teams are really encouraged to address real-world problems. It was a self-directed project.”
The award placed the NDSU team higher than submissions by Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale, the U.S. Air Force Academy and Michigan State University, among others.
To make their dye, the team bioengineered a protein produced in bacteria, which they bound with cellulose, allowing cotton to better retain the pigment.