“Why don’t we have one food provider?” asked Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, who called for a new mindset for approaching cutting costs within the state’s six public universities and the governing Board of Regents. “Why don’t you talk to the one who does the prison? I think meals there are about 68 cents.”
Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, opened his remarks by acknowledging, “I’ve always been a pretty big opponent to what the regents were doing.”
Maher, who brought a bill this past legislative cycle to strip green building codes from campus projects, also warned a “storm” was on a horizon over what he called the rhetoric from diversity offices on the campuses.
Asked by Forum News Service to clarify his remarks, Maher emailed over a link to a website criticizing inclusion initiatives in the state.
After the legislators’ call-to-arms, Regents counsel Nathan Lukkes thanked them for their words and affirmed that he got their message loud-and-clear.
“We may be in the business of education,” said Lukkes, “But it is in fact a business.”
The taskforce stems from a 2020 legislative act — Senate Bill 55 — that calls for the group to study the operations and functions of higher education in the Rushmore State, with an eye for cost effectiveness.
The meeting, held on the campus of the Black Hills State University in Spearfish, with some mask use, opened with messages from university presidents touting their decisions to not shut down during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
“The University of Minnesota is still online,” said Barry Dunn, president of South Dakota State University, noting students in Brookings have been learning in-person since the fall semester. “I hope you’re as proud of that as I am.”
Laurie Nichols, interim president of Black Hills State University, said the pandemic — and subsequent system-wide rush to online learning — left her impressed with faculty’s nimbleness.
“I think we could probably live on about 50% of our travel budget,” said Nichols.
But the mood quickly turned to other potential trims in the regents’ budget — ranging from cutting academic majors with low enrollment to combining operations at Black Hills State and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
After breaking out into sub-committee sessions, the taskforce — comprising business leaders, legislators, regents, and other administration officials — returned to speak in generalities about potential recommendations in the near future.
One plan seemed to draw an axe from Jim Neiman, owner of Neiman Enterprises, who acknowledged he actually is a resident of Wyoming but has long admired the graduates of South Dakota’s two western-most universities.
“I want to be sure that we don’t lose the identity of the School of Mines… by combining stuff,” said Neiman.
One regent official, vice president of finance & administration Heather Forney, also reported that her subcommittee recommended investigating a system-wide food service contract but discouraged further accounting for athletics budgets at the universities, calling those programs part of students’ “holistic” experience.
“It became obvious (during day’s discussions) that athletics are really a recruiting tool for our institutions,” said Forney.
Ultimately, the taskforce must come up with recommendations by November 15.
“I figure there’s an opportunity for us to solve some problems before we just arm-chair quarterback this thing,” said Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls.
“Just being brutally honest,” said Karr, correcting himself. “Respectfully honest.”
Credit: Source link