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NDSU regains top-tier research classification

North Dakota State University, the University of Minnesota and Montana State University are the only schools in a six-state region to obtain R1 status from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

North Dakota State University Dean Bresciani, in a file photo from the university. Courtesy of NDSU
North Dakota State University Dean Bresciani.
Contributed / NDSU file photo
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FARGO — North Dakota State University has regained its status as a top-tier research university.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education gave NDSU a classification of “very high research activity,” or R1, according to a news release issued last week. That is the highest ranking a university can receive from the organization that is regarded as prestigious across the country.

The classification acknowledges the contributions staff, faculty and researchers have made across all disciplines on campus, Colleen Fitzgerald, NDSU vice president for research and creative activity, told The Forum on Monday, Dec. 20.

"You might think of it in parallel to our football recognition on Friday night,” Fitzgerald said in reference to the NDSU football team making it to the FCS championship game. “We're playing with the top teams in our league in terms of our research and scholarly activity.”

R1 means an institution is operating at the highest level possible, NDSU said in a news release Monday. It helps the school attract high-quality faculty while assisting the university in obtaining research grants, according to the release.

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It also aids in recruiting and retaining top-tier students, Fitzgerald said. The classification is a reflection on not just research but scholarly output, she said.

“Simply put, this is national acknowledgment that, at the highest performance level possible, NDSU is making the world a better place and helping to diversify North Dakota’s economy,” NDSU President Dean Bresciani said in a statement.

The list classified 137 schools as R1, and only NDSU, the University of Minnesota and Montana State University got the classification in the six-state upper Midwest region.

NDSU first obtained R1 status in 2010. The university was downgraded to R2 in 2015. Former Interim North Dakota University System Chancellor Larry Skogen suggested in 2014 that presidents, particularly Bresciani, should get pay raises comparable to the salary of presidents of colleges with similar classifications, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources listed the median salary for R1 school presidents at $450,000 at the time, with Skogen pushing for Bresciani to get 80% of that amount, a Herald article reported. Bresciani had a salary of $330,000.

Bresciani now makes $371,380 per year.

The State Board of Higher Education asked him to step down as president by the end of 2022 after Chancellor Mark Hagerott said in a June evaluation that NDSU's research position compared to other U.S. schools was “eroding.”

NDSU’s total research expenditures climbed from $126.4 million in 2010 to $155.6 million last year, Bresciani told Hagerott in response to the critical evaluation.

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That expansion in research spending is phenomenal, Fitzgerald said, adding she hopes to see more growth. The R1 designation is a sign that NDSU is being efficient in using state resources to conduct research, she added.

NDSU is in the process of reprioritizing its academic programs. An assessment conducted by a consulting firm suggested redirecting efforts toward instruction to “fill the gaps in teaching obligations,” the report said. That may reduce the need for adjunct and part-time faculty. But it also could lead to less time on non-teaching activities, such as research, the report said.

When asked if she had any concerns about the recommendations proposed in the report, Fitzgerald said she came on to lead research at NDSU in October because she saw a lot of opportunities for NDSU to grow its research enterprise. That includes research on food security, water and farming.

NDSU has not made any final decisions on whether to direct more resources to instructional efforts and away from non-teaching activities.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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