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Anne Williams, Forum Communications Co., Published January 02 2012

Bemidji State president Hanson focuses on future

BEMIDJI, Minn. – With applications due in a few weeks for the North Dakota University System chancellor’s job, Richard Hanson said he’s not going anywhere.

Last month, a former colleague nominated Hanson for the job, but the president at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College said he won’t apply.

Hanson, who grew up in North Dakota and served as the interim president at North Dakota State University in Fargo from 2009 to 2010, is now in his second year in Bemidji.

A Dec. 7 letter nominated Hanson for the job overseeing North Dakota’s five community colleges, four regional universities and two research universities. The letter writer, Daniel Hanson, president of Peru State College in Nebraska, worked under Richard Hanson at Iowa’s Waldorf College.

“I’m in the middle of stuff here in Bemidji,” Richard Hanson said last week in response to a question about whether he’d apply.

Instead, Hanson said he’s focused on long-range planning for BSU and NTC after initially seeing a controversial start in the Northland.

Early during Hanson’s first year in Bemidji, with the wind chill nearing minus 10 degrees, dozens gathered on campus last Feb. 1 to protest changes announced by Hanson and his leadership team.

Hanson’s plan called for fixing a $5 million budget shortfall by reducing 30 staff positions between BSU and Northwest Technical College and eliminating the art history and theater programs at BSU.

One year later, Hanson believes both BSU and NTC are on track. He said he has been impressed by how faculty and staff adapted.

“Because of the cuts, faculty had to make a lot of adjustments,” he said. “Programs had to be changed. They’ve stepped up.”

Some administrators and faculty feared the recalibration plan would have a negative impact on student enrollment, but this year, BSU’s fall enrollment held steady.

Ripples were felt in other ways, however.

‘It was just painful’

At the start of this academic year, Hanson said some faculty and staff reported more students per class and fewer sections of classes offered in some programs.

At NTC, student enrollment dropped by 10 percent, but Hanson attributed the decline to the large number of displaced workers who graduated from NTC last spring.

“I’m a little concerned about that,” he said, referring to the enrollment drop. “We’re addressing that aggressively and seeing if we can’t bring more students over there.”

Looking back, Hanson said he made a few wrong decisions. While he would not go into specifics, he hinted it was in the way that he communicated the plan to students, faculty and the community.

Recalibration did not go badly, he said, “it was just painful.”

“It wasn’t a perfect process, but it got us to where we needed to be,” he added.

Hanson was not the first BSU president to announce a plan to reduce the budget by $5 million. In 2007, former BSU President Jon Quistgaard announced some academic programs, including theater, German and anthropology, faced potential cuts. This was part of his plan to reduce, restructure and invest resources in light of the budget reduction.

In 2008, some staffing positions were reduced and BSU reorganized its three colleges. The theater program remained.

Task force 2025

Hanson and his leadership team now have a new plan to move BSU and NTC forward. While it appears to be in its early stages of development, his plan consists of gathering input from faculty, staff and students on key issues.

Eight committees have been designated by Hanson to discuss topics such as science, technology, engineering and math, the future of the American Indian Resource Center, access and partnerships, Title IX and athletics, Division II sports, Division I hockey and restructuring and reorganization, among others.

Hanson said he would like to see BSU place a greater focus on American Indian education, particularly in raising the graduation rate among American Indian students.

Hanson tasked each of the eight committees to come up with three to five goals by February or early March on ways to best accommodate the students who will be enrolling 13 years from now, which he calls his “task force on 2025.”

This spring he said he expects to use what he learns from each committee to create a long-term plan.

“We’re going to try and put them in some kind of order and see what comes out,” he said.

Finding new money

In addition to his “task force on 2025,” Hanson said the BSU Foundation Board of Directors recently approved a large-scale fundraising campaign. This will likely involve asking for money through alumni, private resources, foundations, grants and contracts.

Hanson said the current economy is one of the main reasons why a fundraising campaign is needed.

Support for higher education from the state is going down, he said, which often results in increased tuition.

Currently BSU’s annual tuition ranks highest among seven four-year state universities in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

In order to bring in more non-state aid dollars, Hanson said BSU’s financial endowment needs to be about three times larger.

“I think we have to plan for higher education that is more state-assisted than state-supported,” he said.

While he did not say how long he hopes to stay on as president of BSU and NTC, Hanson said he intends to stay as long as it takes to complete the fundraising campaign.

“There are a lot of people who would say they are not big fans of me, but I still think stability and leadership and continuity is important,” he said. “When you start a campaign, you need to work on it for a while. That means we’ve got a few years yet.”

Biographical info: Richard Hanson


Anne Williams writes for the Bemidji Pioneer.