North Dakota State University leaders have been stoic in accepting the 17-percent budget cuts for the 2017-19 budget, the result of sharply reduced state revenues. All of state government has been forced to cut back in the face of a persistently slumping economy. There have been those who have criticized administrators at NDSU for failing to advocate forcefully for the university. They now have their answer, loud and clear: The NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association is embarking on an ambitious fundraising drive, with the goal of taking in $300 million to $400 million by 2022.

This will be NDSU's largest fund drive by far: The last drive, a five-year effort that ended in 2007, raised $110 million, exceeding its $75 million goal. The focus of the effort is to provide more support for students, in the form of scholarships and fellowships, and for faculty, in the form of endowed chairs, for example. Less emphasis will be placed on brick-and-mortar building projects.

Why not make new buildings a priority? Donors, after all, love to see their names displayed on a shiney new building. The reason: It's the responsibility of the state, NDSU President Dean Bresciani rightly says, to provide the necessary buildings for its higher education campuses. How has North Dakota been doing in that regard? Dismally. Until the $23.9 million STEM building-science, technology, engineering and math-opened last year, the last fully state-funded building at NDSU was erected in 1974, more than four decades ago.

Meanwhile, deferred maintenance and obsolescence mean some campus buildings are falling disgracefully behind. The most notable example at NDSU is Dunbar Hall, which houses crucial chemistry labs, for years an acknowledged safety concern. Higher education has become a punching bag for certain members of the North Dakota Legislature, but we should all agree that maintaining adequate-and safe-chemistry labs at one of North Dakota's flagship universities ranks as a priority for a state striving to educate its bright young minds to harness vital human capital.

Granted, North Dakota is going through rough times. But we should never lose sight of the importance of investing in our intellectual seed capital, through a well-managed and funded higher education system. NDSU's Bresciani has done a deft job of navigating his campus through the financial shoals, displaying sound leadership without flashiness. He's kept his focus on running a top-notch university and now, with the significant involvement of NDSU Foundation leadership, he's setting an aspirational fundraising goal.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

The result will be a stronger university, and that helps the entire state. Once the state regains its financial footing, it should follow that example and step up its support for important higher education infrastructure. This state loves to build highways; it should show the same enthusiasm for universities.