FARGO-Doug Burgum will be making a homecoming visit when he returns to the campus of North Dakota State University to deliver Saturday's spring commencement address.
The governor, a 1978 graduate of NDSU, will speak at both the 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. commencement ceremonies at the Fargodome.
The Burgum family's ties to NDSU go back several generations. The governor's grandmother, Jessamine Slaughter Burgum, was the first woman to enroll at NDSU, then known as North Dakota Agricultural College. Burgum Hall on the NDSU campus is named in her honor. The Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Family Life Center is named after the governor's mother, who served as dean of the College of Home Economics.
In fact, Burgum's parents met at what's now NDSU, where both worked on the college yearbook. Burgum, who earned a bachelor's degree in university studies, served as NDSU's student body president in 1976-77.
But the governor might find a mixed reception on the campus, which is facing steep budget cuts forced by the chronic revenue slump that has plagued North Dakota, beset by lower oil and crop prices.
The governor, who has been blunt in advocating the need to streamline state government services, has said higher education should embrace opportunities presented by advances in communications technology.
"Knowledge transfer can occur anytime, any place, any location," he said recently. "We have to understand that that is going to cannibalize some of what universities have done in the past."
In the future, online access to a rich assortment of course offerings will challenge the value of a more traditional, campus-based collegiate experience, the governor said.
In response to economic and technological forces, physical campuses could largely be replaced by digital learning platforms, he added, though stopped short of speaking in support of eliminating any of the state's 11 higher education campuses.
Faculty at NDSU, which have seen their ranks thinned by retirement incentives and attrition driven by budget cuts, will be interested to hear what the governor has to say in his commencement addresses, said Kathryn Gordon, an associate professor of psychology and president of the faculty senate.
"There is interest in faculty trying to communicate with Burgum on what we're seeing on the ground and what the research says about some of the things he's talking about," she said.
"There's a place for online teaching," Gordon added. "Many faculty at the university value that and would like to see that grow." At the same time, she added, many others value traditional, face-to-face instruction in the classroom.
"I think having a dialogue about it is the best way to move forward," Gordon said, adding that there is interest at NDSU and some other campuses in having a higher education summit in the fall.
Burgum is hosting his own "Summit on Innovative Education" in Bismarck on June 8, in collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and the North Dakota University System.
"It aims to bring together a diverse group to explore opportunities to reinvent the state's educational system to meet the needs of a 21st century workforce," the governor's office said. "The summit will feature conversations with nationally and locally recognized leaders in education, philanthropy and business, and students who are already leading the way in rethinking traditional approaches to education."
Lawrence Reynolds, a distinguished professor of animal science at NDSU, has been outspoken in warning about the damage that the budget cuts will cause. Faculty members were hoping that Burgum would be a champion of higher education, including campus funding.
"I think the faculty seem to be disappointed in the governor, to some extent, and feeling a little discouraged, actually," he said. "We think we are doing something critical to the region."
The cuts, and Burgum's advocacy of reinventing the state's educational system, have caused apprehension among some, Reynolds said.
"Now I think the feeling on campus is, gee, the importance of this place isn't valued, or at least as much as it should be," he said.
As for online education, count Reynolds among the skeptics, especially for laboratory courses, where he said it is critical for students to learn by doing, critical for NDSU's strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"These are hands-on things," he said. "There's just no replacement for that, at least in my mind."
As for the topic of Burgum's commencement speech, the governor is keeping mum, "out of respect for the students who have worked so hard to get to this point," said his spokesman, Mike Nowatzki.