DICKINSON — After the resignation of President Thomas Mitzel in September, Dickinson State University faculty and staff expressed concerns about the budget cuts a future interim president might make.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott and North Dakota State Board of Higher Education board member Nick Hacker came to the university Wednesday, Oct. 30, for a “listening session,” during which they asked university faculty and staff what qualities they would most like to see in an interim and permanent president.
Mitzel will remain in his position until the end of the year when he leaves to become president of Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Hagerott told them that the system already is receiving applications for interim president and will begin interviewing candidates as early as next week.
Hacker assured the faculty and staff that the system and board are involved with the university.
“I have taken no less than one phone call every day for the last month. The chancellor has been here on campus numerous times. We are engaged, and we care,” he said.
Hacker said many of the calls they received were about recent budget cuts, and Hagerott acknowledged the difficulties the university has faced with state funding.
“A lot of challenges that we have here now that you all are working on are several years in the making, and the funding formula has kind of a lag effect in it, and you all are now stabilized in your funding formula … You’re coming out of that lag there,” he said.
However, Hacker said the university still needs to find approximately $1 million worth of cuts to balance its budget.
Any further cuts, he said, are on hold until an interim president takes over; however, Hacker said the budget task force work needs to continue in the meantime.
“What we do need is the work of the (budget) task force to continue so that interim (president) has the best information available to make the best decisions on behalf of the institution as possible,” he said.
When Hagerott and Hacker opened the floor for faculty and staff to talk about what they would like to see in a president, many of them voiced concerns about the budget cuts.
Professor Eric Brevik estimated that the cuts go back at least six years.
“The person that comes in (as president) is going to have to deal with a campus where there is a real hit on morale,” he said. “We have been doing through multiple legislative sessions with deep cuts to what we have to work with … We’re down to a point where it looks like a lot of the $1 million has to be people, and that has this campus very on edge.”
Staff member Keith James works as interim affirmative action officer and Title IX coordinator in addition to working for housing and dining. He said he is concerned about the cuts that have already been made to staff and said he wants a president that understands the value that staff provides to students.
“Within our area, over the last two years, we’ve gone from more than 20 people down to eight to 10. Some of us (are) wearing multiple hats. . . . We know there’s going to be cuts coming, but we don’t want those cuts to be detrimental to students,” he said.
Billy Harris, chairman of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, expressed a desire for the interim president to be at least somewhat local.
“I think there’s a deep fear on campus that if we get an outsider that comes in, slashes a whole bunch of things to meet a number, and then goes off to retirement or back to wherever they came from, we’re the ones that have to live with those decisions,” he said. “I’m hoping that the interim president will be someone with a strong connection and obvious love for this part of the state, this region, or ideally, Dickinson State itself.”