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UND plans to stay 'nimble,' 'transformative' facing cuts

Mark Kennedy

GRAND FORKS—Budget cuts have been an unpleasant and all too familiar reality in higher education in North Dakota over the past few years, but UND President Mark Kennedy said it is important to be "nimble" and "transformative" with a budget going forward.

The State Board of Higher Education approved the university system's needs-based budget request on June 28 in Mandan during the board's regular meeting.

Proposed budget guidelines from Gov. Doug Burgum include a 10 percent cut to higher education and other state agencies, as well as another 3 percent cut for potential contingency funds.

The 10 percent cut, if enacted, would reduce the overall NDUS appropriations to $565.8 million. A total 13 percent cut would reduce appropriations to $548.7 million. This would bring appropriations to levels seen in the 2009-11 biennium. The cuts still have to go through the Office of Management and Budget, the governor's office and the Legislature.

Kennedy said the university has been focusing on things like deferred maintenance, working on high-growth degrees such as cybersecurity and data analytics and expanding online opportunities to draw on different revenue areas.

"We hear from the governor that we need to be nimble, that we need to be transformative, that we need to be looking for revenue sources outside the state, and we fully affirm and believe all three of those messages and are working hard at being so even with these tough budget challenges," Kennedy said, adding that being nimble means being prepared to make adjustments between legislative sessions.

Kennedy noted that there are still many steps to go before a budget is finalized, and things could change between now and the end of next April.

"We are still at the beginning of a relatively long road," he said. "There will be a lot more curves along this road as we get there."

Kennedy said it was too early to speculate if any potential cuts could mean jobs lost at UND.

The university is focusing on three areas this coming biennium: operations, research and deferred maintenance.

Kennedy said the university receives "about a quarter" of its resources from the state, which he says is the least among all 11 NDUS institutions.

"We think we've used the resources that we've been given wisely," he said. "We think we've already taken a very significant amount of cuts. We're on record as saying whatever the state decides, whatever anybody decides, we need to give pay increases to our quality staff and faculty to continue to attract."

Research investment

Kennedy said the university is focused on a number of initiatives designed to help "drive (the university) forward" and hopes that anything that happens to the budget doesn't derail those.

"We further hope that we make a very significant improvement in the increase in research for the university," he said, adding that the university's research revenues equal or exceed the amount of money they get from the state.

The university system included an optional adjustment request of $10 million for a campus research initiative pool in its budget. If approved, the money would pass through NDUS to the research universities, UND and NDSU, Kennedy said.

"Having that amount at least included in the budget that the university system is submitting is helpful in us making the case that added investment in research can bolster both our research universities," he said. "It can have significant beneficial impact to the state and our ability to deliver exciting careers to our youth."

"The governor has shown a strong receptivity to our proposals to say 'If you give us more money in research then we can leverage that with more dollars from federal and corporate entities,'" he said.

Kennedy has said that investment in research, such as unmanned aircraft systems, is important not only to UND but the state as a whole.

"We're building a strong case for this being an ability to make it a more vibrant state, a more diversified economy, a place where there's more opportunities for young talent to be attracted to the state," he said.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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