Duaine Espegard, Grand Forks, Published February 05 2013
Letter: No time for petty old daysOn Jan. 14, the state Board of Higher Education and the North Dakota University System presented our “Action Agenda for a Bright Future” to the Senate Appropriations Committee. I stood before the assembly and declared the dawn of a new day for higher education in North Dakota. And I meant it. I speak for the entire board when I say higher education is on a new path, and we are determined to be successful.
However, last week, we saw a petty attempt to return to the old days when misleading information was given to the media that claimed the board needed to check with the Legislature about design changes to an NDUS IT building on the University of North Dakota campus, which was approved last session. I’m writing to set the record straight.
The latest plan, which simply carves out an administrative office area in one section, creates no change in the functionality or purpose of the building. Despite the information given to the media, no IT staff has been displaced. There is space for 142 team members in the building, and we currently have 119 IT staff working in Grand Forks. By the way, this staff reports to the NDUS chief information officer, who reports to the chancellor. Thanks to the state’s investment, our IT system is first-rate, and it serves all of our campuses effectively on a daily basis. This building will help them do that more efficiently.
Second, this design change has no effect on the size or cost of the building. Section 48-01.2-25 of the North Dakota Century Code, dealing with authorization of expansion of public improvements, states that the Legislature should be notified if there is a significant change in the size or cost of the building – which there is not. Such a change was made in the design last year, and it was taken to the budget section of legislative management in March 2012, as required by law.
Third, this NDUS administrative area is not strictly for the chancellor’s use. Yes, the chancellor may use the office when he is in town. However, it will also be used by NDUS staff when they are in the area, by Fargo IT staff who frequently travel to Grand Forks, by institutional personnel when visiting the facility, for meetings with vendors and likely by community members.
Fourth, to call this the “Chancellor’s Suite” is unfortunate and misleading. Yes, it has office space, a conference room, work spaces for other personnel, and other facilities.
What is important to know is that access to most of the building will require an IT security clearance, so it was necessary for this area to have facilities outside the secure area. An area with conference room and visitor spaces was under consideration long before a touchdown space for the chancellor’s use was mentioned.
Fifth, information that was supplied to the media compared old drafts of plans to today’s plans, insinuating that this is the only change that has been made. The old drafts were concepts, not blueprints, and there have been many changes since planning began last February – moving walls, relocating work areas, moving fixed office spaces, redesigning work spaces, moving restrooms – as the most efficient use of the space was determined.
Finally, the board has instructed Chancellor Hamid Shirvani to spend as much time as possible on our campuses. Not only will he have a touchdown space in Grand Forks as he works in the eastern side of the state, he will also have one in Williston as he serves our western campuses. We believe it’s important for him to be visible and accessible as we work to deliver higher-quality education and build an efficient system to serve our students and our state. If some feel threatened by that, so be it. The board believes this is critical, and I speak for the entire membership when I say we won’t be distracted by pettiness. The board is committed to a brighter future, and we believe the governor and the Legislature support that vision. We aren’t going to let misinformation slow us down.
Espegard, Grand Forks, is president, North Dakota Board of Higher Education.