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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published September 10 2010

One large university? Fargo man proposes combining NDSU, UND into flagship school

Here’s a far-fetched idea: How about combining North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota?

A Fargo man admits his idea sounds crazy at first, but Bill Kiefer thinks creating one large flagship university will bring benefits to the state.

The 60-year-old NDSU alumnus wants to put the issue to a vote of the people.

Kiefer said he plans to pursue a constitutional initiated measure to merge the two universities.

Kiefer, an independent financial adviser who played football for NDSU from 1968-71, said he’s been talking about his idea for several years and now he’s ready to move it forward.

“This will be the biggest thing to happen to our state since the railroad crossed the Red River,” Kiefer said.

Many other states have one large flagship university rather than two competing campuses, Kiefer said.

When asked why combining NDSU and UND is a good idea, Kiefer lists these buzzwords: “stronger, better, more efficient, more competitive, growth engine.”

Kiefer said he has a steering committee that is working on the proposal. They plan to launch a website soon called Team North Dakota.

Group members, which include some skeptics, are joined by one common goal, Kiefer says.

“The main issue here is what’s best for the great state of North Dakota,” he said.

The group hasn’t worked out all the details of how the two universities would combine or what the school would be called.

One idea is to build a bullet train between Fargo and Grand Forks to provide transportation between the two campuses.

Kiefer has also discussed building an athletic stadium between the two cities.

His proposal does not affect the other nine campuses in the North Dakota University System.

Kiefer has discussed his idea with Chancellor Bill Goetz and other higher education officials.

“I deem this a citizens’ rights matter,” Goetz said. “People can bring forth ideas. That’s exactly what he’s doing, and that’s exactly how I treated it.”

Goetz said he’d want to see Kiefer’s analysis and details before commenting on the merits of his idea.

“I stand behind our existing system with two research institutions, two viable institutions,” Goetz said.

Kiefer said the first step for the group is to discuss the issue around the state. Then they will decide whether to pursue petition signatures to get it on the ballot or if they’ll ask legislators to consider the issue.

Kiefer said he’s been told that the soonest it could be on the ballot is June 2012.

“We’re not saying this has to happen,” Kiefer said. “We’re saying this should be debated.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590