UND, NDSU presidents come together to seek research funding
GRAND FORKS—University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy and North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani say their goal of a $100 million investment in the two research universities could have a big impact on North Dakota.
The universities are each seeking $25 million a year in the next biennium. Kennedy and Bresciani said that by investing money in the research universities, they will be able to return that money and more back to the state through their work.
The two shared a few jabs and jokes about hockey and football during a joint appearance Thursday, Aug. 9, in a meeting with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., but they were united in their passion for research and investment in their research universities.
Kennedy noted investment in research dollars for the two largest universities in the state, which also happen to be located in the Red River Valley, is not just something that would benefit the valley.
"We need the state of North Dakota to better appreciate how much benefit the state could see from investment in research and how investing in more research benefits not just our universities but the state and its citizens," Kennedy said.
The universities have shared goals and interests when it comes to research and their "grand challenges," the presidents said. UND's grand challenges include energy and environmental sustainability; health and biomedical sciences; rural health and social problems; unmanned aircraft; and big data.
NDSU has a similar list of grand challenges, including food systems and security; healthy populations and vital communities; and sustainable energy, environmental and societal infrastructure. Bresciani noted each of these grand challenges are multi-disciplinary and bring faculty and staff together from across each campus to work together to achieve a common goal.
"They bring faculty ... from applicable fields together to solve problems, and it tends to be much more competitive as far as receiving federal funding but also much more successful in resolving the challenge that the research is targeted at," Bresciani said.
Having a shared message is important, Bresciani said, adding to Kennedy's point that investing in research is not just about NDSU or UND but the state as a whole.
The Valley Prosperity Partnership, which helped put together the event, comprises economic developers, NDSU and UND, private sector businesses, community leaders and others who recognize the importance of collaboration and leveraging resources. The VPP has said it supports legislation related to higher education that prioritizes an emerging technology fund and giving more decision-making independence to the research universities.
"(The business leaders) see the potential, and that's why they're supporting this unheard of effort that would be historic in our state," Bresciani said.
State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said finding the money is always a challenge. The money could come from the general fund, the strategic investment and improvements fund or another funding source.
"I think it's a good idea that we need more stability with research," Holmberg said.
Salary increases for state employees, including higher education, will be a top priority during the next legislative session, Holmberg said.
"We have to fund that. We can't go four years without compensation," he said, adding that pay increases for state employees is not a priority over giving money to research universities, but a part of it.
Holmberg said he believes he would support the idea legislatively, but said he still has to consider the "grand scheme of things" as well. The State Board of Higher Education also plays a large part in the picture, Holmberg said, noting the SBHE has to be fair to all 11 universities it oversees.
There are many competing interests when it comes to state funds available for investments like this, Holmberg said, noting that $100 million may be too much to ask for up front.
"I want to see how much money we have and what's going to be there," he said. "I don't think that we are going to fund the next biennium based on the money we have (now). It's not going to be tax increases and things like that."
Previously, Kennedy said Gov. Doug Burgum had suggested the dollar amounts sought by the schools were too low given the potential impact of their work.
A meeting with the two presidents is also planned in Fargo before they hit the road together to visit Bismarck and western North Dakota.