Tension surfaces between faculty, staff and the Board of Higher Education

May 24, 2018

State Board of Higher Education meets at Bismarck State College 5/23/18.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Tension between the Board of Higher Education and the faculty and staff at the state’s colleges and universities surfaced at the Board's May meeting in Bismarck.

The reason: The significant budget cuts higher-ed took in the 2017 Legislative session, and the additional 10 percent cuts proposed by Gov. Doug Burgum for the 2019-2021 biennium. Some in the faculty and staff at the state's 11 public colleges and universities believe the Board didn't do enough to make a case for better funding during the 2019 Legislative session.

The faculty adviser to the Board, Birgit Pruess of NDSU, told the Board the extra 10 percent would do some real damage to the colleges.

"We have trimmed all the fat there was," Pruess said. "Anything more will be blood and bones."

Pruess said she's heard some professors say they would leave if the cuts come through.

In the System’s strategic plan – Envision 2030 – one of the points was to support the faculty and staff with salary increases. During a discussion at the Board meeting in Bismarck, one board member made the remark about not paying the college presidents enough.  Council of College Faculties president Deb Dragseth of Dickinson State University told the Board she received a number of texts from faculty members who were upset at that remark.

"When the first comment is, 'Our presidents don't get paid enough' when the slide says 'faculty and staff,' and the second comment is, 'How do we have the best hockey team if we don't pay for the best hockey coach,' staff have been texting me saying, 'If I don't get a raise in another year, I'm out of here,'" Dragseth said. "If those are the first comments that we hear, we have a problem."

Board chairman Don Morton said those comments were off-topic.

"Those remarks about the hockey coach or the presidents -- keep it within the context of the discussion," Morton said. "You just can't pick out a random thing."

Board member Greg Stemen said he would like to see solutions, not just complaining.

"We can yell at the gas station attendant for no gas," Stemen said. "Does it really do any good to yell louder at the gas station attendant because they don't have gas?"

Board members said they would do a better job of communicating with faculty and staff when they put the budget together for the 2019-2021 biennium. The board will be putting together two budgets – one to meet Gov. Burgum’s mandate, and one would be needs-based.