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Cali Owings, Published October 10 2013

Bresciani: NDSU close to losing accreditation 3 years ago, but now 'out of the woods'

FARGO – Three years ago when Dean Bresciani took over as president of North Dakota State University, the school’s financial situation was so dire it risked losing its accreditation.

During his annual State of the University address Thursday, Bresciani shared the details of the financial burden he inherited that caused the school to make sweeping budget cuts and increase tuition by 8.8 percent.

He explained that one measure of financial health is a “composite financial ratio.” At a ratio of 1.0 or below, accreditation agencies “believe that a university doesn’t have the capacity to maintain its operations.”

NDSU, he said, was on “the brink of the unspeakable” with a composite financial ratio of 1.2.

While he anticipated it would take five to 10 years to recover, Bresciani said Thursday they’re “out of the woods” after three lean years and significant re-investment from the state.

During that time, he said the school gained a valuable lesson “in efficient and effective resource utilization that will pay dividends when we have adequate resources with which to accomplish our work.”

He touted the new state funding model that leveled the playing field for NDSU. The new formula funds institutions based on the number of credits completed and the cost to deliver those programs.

NDSU had been underfunded for several years compared to the other 10 public colleges and universities in the state, Bresciani claimed.

The new model went into effect July 1 and resulted in a $6.4 million adjustment in funding for NDSU over the current biennium.

Bresciani highlighted several areas where the school can now afford to increase spending.

Resources from the state Legislature will be used to increase faculty and academic support positions.

The colleges that took a 10 percent operating budget cut will have their budgets restored, plus a 3 percent increase due to inflation, Bresciani said.

“To be able to restore those lost resources today represents an immediate and exceptional boost to our academic priorities,” he said.

The school is also re-establishing its reserve funds and will provide 40 percent coverage of health insurance premiums for doctoral students.

“While all of this news is certainly cause for optimism, we need to remain frugal, efficient and collaborative,” he said.

Though academic areas will receive a much-needed boost, Bresciani was clear that budgets would not be restored for administrative and student affairs units that were cut 19 percent.

Acknowledging an ongoing email scandal, Bresciani also announced the school will move to managing its own email system.

After about 45,000 emails were allegedly deleted from Bresciani’s account in April, he said his account may have been compromised by university system staff. In a statement to the Forum in June, an NDSU and a university system official said the only outsiders who accessed Bresciani’s email account were fulfilling open records requests and the deletion was likely caused by an auto-purge function.

Bresciani referred to the incident Thursday as an invasion of privacy, prompting the switch.

“What happened to my account last spring was an extreme and inappropriate invasion of my professional and personal privacy, and it is not something I will allow to happen to faculty and staff of NDSU.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599