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Published December 04 2012

Forum editorial: Higher ed requires a ‘vision’

At first glance, Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s proposal for an $84 million general fund budget increase for North Dakota’s University System is a jaw-dropper. But further scrutiny suggests his proposal comports with the vision of a “big agenda” for the system’s 11 colleges and universities.

The important word for the future of higher education is “vision.” Shirvani came on board a few months ago and quickly advanced ideas that were visionary and practical. They ranged from imposing tougher admission requirements to catching up with delayed investments in education programs, research capacity and campus buildings.

If approved, the system’s two-year budget would rise about 16 percent, from the current $516 million to about $600 million. That amount does not include a one-time capital expenditure request of $146 million to fund 14 campus construction projects, including new classrooms and laboratories at North Dakota State University and a new building for the University of North Dakota’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

It’s a lot of money. But if the system is to keep up and excel, significant investments are necessary. The chancellor, who is new to the job, was quick to grasp the strengths already in the system. More importantly, he saw the potential for across-the-board, world-class excellence. It’s a theme shared by NDSU President Dean Bresciani and former NDSU President Joseph Chapman.

The budget has to go through the legislative meat grinder, and it’s no surprise the chancellor’s proposal has raised eyebrows. No one expects his budget blueprint to skate through the Legislature without changes. That’s the process. However, a few lawmakers are hung up on what they perceive or allege was mismanagement and/or malfeasance in the university system in the last few years. They apparently will obsess on the past, while the chancellor and others who value higher education move forward. Moving forward is the better option.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.