GRAND FORKS — Members of North Dakota’s higher ed board are cautioning campuses and the university system that they must be careful as funding priorities are set in the upcoming legislative session.

Board member Kathy Neset said it’s important that the board and the North Dakota University System take a “realistic” approach to the budget for the next biennium as the state faces a downturn in oil revenue.

“Prioritization will be important,” she said.

The board spent more than an hour discussing the system’s needs-based budget and its capital-needs budget Tuesday, June 30 during its regular meeting held in Bismarck. The meeting was streamed live for the public due to COVID-19 concerns.

The system’s needs-based budget differs from Gov. Doug Burgum’s budget guidelines, which were released in May.

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The governor’s guidelines would cut the system’s budget by around $63 million, which would bring the total budget to about $574.7 million. That number is below where the system’s budget was for the 2011-13 biennium and could result in hundreds of jobs lost across the system. Where the budget ultimately ends up will be decided by the Legislature next year.

The system’s general fund budget has been set at $649.8 million, up nearly 2% over the last biennium. The system will also ask the Legislature to consider $149.5 million in capital requests, which were ranked. Most of the requests are due to life-safety and deferred maintenance concerns.

The board approved the budget request.

Board chair Nick Hacker said the system and the board may need to be ready to reconsider their priorities before to the legislative session next year, as the state’s revenue is so uncertain that there hasn’t been a recent revenue forecast.

Other uncertainties remain for the system and its 11 campuses as it’s unclear how the ongoing pandemic will impact campus enrollment and other aspects of the budget.

“I would suspect those priorities will lean towards operating budgets versus capital budgets, which is traditionally the case,” Hacker said. “But I would agree with (Neset), we are in extremely uncertain times.”

Other board business

  • After spending more than two hours in executive session discussing the contracts of multiple university system presidents, the board approved to renew the contracts of Doug Darling (Lake Region State), Brian Van Horn (Mayville State), Steve Shirley (Minot State), Dean Bresciani (North Dakota State), Alan LaFave (Valley City State) and John Miller (Williston State). The board also approved a new contract for North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman. Neset was the lone dissenting vote on Richman’s contract renewal.

  • Discussion continued about the potential for presidential tenure, a discussion that has been underway for more than a year. More input is needed from tenure faculty and presidents across the system about whether to allow presidents to be awarded tenure, board member Casey Ryan said. Faculty, particularly tenure faculty, have generally been against tenure for presidents as those presidents haven’t had to go through the rigorous, seven-year process of tenure, board member and faculty representative Debora Dragseth said. Tenure has been viewed by some board members as a way to attract and retain presidents.

  • Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND medical school and leader of the university system’s smart restart task force, said plans are starting to take shape for students to return to system campuses in the fall. An important aspect will be testing, he said. System leaders hope to test students, faculty and staff from across the system before classes begin and then throughout the semester. More details on that potential testing are in the works, Wynne noted.

  • Board members voted to renew Chancellor Mark Hagerott’s contract for another two years. Additionally, the board voted to give Hagerott a legislatively allowed 2.5% pay raise. His current salary is $374,400; the raise would bring his salary to $383,760. Hagerott said he intends to donate the salary increase, $9,360, to the NDUS Foundation.

  • The retirement of system Vice Chancellor Phil Wisecup was announced during the meeting. Wisecup has been a part of the university system for about three years.