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Chuck Haga, Forum News Service, Published September 17 2013

UND may cut Writers Conference

GRAND FORKS – The University of North Dakota’s new College of Arts and Sciences dean has asked organizers of the UND Writers Conference to come up with a long-term funding plan or consider scaling back or even ending the annual spring event, which for more than four decades has brought students, faculty and townspeople together with literary giants.

“It is an important conference, important not only to our internal UND community but also to the wider Grand Forks community,” Dean Debbie Storrs said Tuesday. “We’d love to see it continue with the same quality of authors. It’s a great way to pull people together to think and learn.

“But this is one of many competing demands for resources,” she said.

Storrs said she has asked a conference planning committee led by Crystal Alberts, a member of the English Department faculty and co-director of the conference, “how we might manage funding priorities” for the conference. It now costs between $70,000 and $100,000 a year to bring nationally and internationally known writers to campus for a weeklong series of readings and panel discussions.

“It’s been an expensive process over the years to get the quality of authors to come to campus,” Storrs said. “It takes resources. I’ve asked her to think about a viable long-term strategy to support the conference. We can scale back, we can offer it every other year, not offer it, or partner with others.”

Storrs said the conference may not be able to count on continuing major support from the university or such outside sources as the National Endowment of the Arts.

“All those places are having to ask the same kinds of questions,” she said. “How are we going to continue funding such events, which are many and frequent?”

Eric Wolfe, chairman of the English Department, said he and others in the department are “hopeful there will still be money to fund something that’s been such a resource for the campus and the community,” but he understands the shifting budget situation.

“The entire campus is going through a transition process, with a new provost and for us a new dean,” he said. “We’ve always been funded through a variety of sources – state, federal, grants, private donations – but there’s always been a large segment funded by UND itself.”

One feature of the annual conference since its premiere in 1970 has been the absence of admission charges for readings and panel discussions.

“The English faculty want to continue to provide this open access,” Storrs said. “They really don’t want to go to a fee model. I respect that, but that means we need to find other ways to support it.”

The conference has been funded for this year, “and they have a great conference planned,” she said.

Storrs, who became dean June 25, said she has heard from many people who celebrate the Writers Conference as one of the best things happening at UND.

“I’m hoping the college can continue to fund it at some level,” she said, but “I have to manage the college budget, and this is a significant expense. My primary need is to cover educational needs.”