FARGO — North Dakota State University is strong when it comes to culture and conducting research, but some fear there's a lack of leadership, funding and commitment to diversity, according to preliminary survey results that will be considered in drafting a five-year strategic plan.

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges at NDSU emerged from surveys filled out by students, faculty, staff and administrators. Surveys were sent to 16,781 potential respondents this fall, and 1,169 surveys were completed.

The results released Friday, Dec. 6, said the school has a “sense of community,” as well as dedicated faculty and staff. The most significant weaknesses pointed to concerns over decreased funding, followed by limited parking and a shortage of leadership, according to the results.

One faculty member said there was a “lack of institutional support, no real strategy to deal with challenges (and) a lack of clear leadership.” Another said a "lack of leadership in the upper administration and lack of transparency are a huge problem."

Others pointed out problems with communication. One respondent said there is low morale and poor communication with staff, while another said there was “terrible work culture across communication and collaboration.”

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“We are spread too thin, and there is no leadership for how we are to handle the ongoing budget and enrollment challenges,” one administrator said.

Molly Secor-Turner, an associate nursing professor, and David Bertolini, dean of arts, humanities and social sciences, are co-chairing the strategic planning process. They didn’t seem surprised by the criticism of leadership, noting that university employees are taught to be critical. The survey also asked respondents to be critical, Secor-Turner said.

“While it is stressful that we have to make budget cuts, or that there is this potential decline in student enrollment, it’s also a good push for us to be motivated to be more innovative about what’s happening here on campus,” she said.

The gathering of input is part of a nearly yearlong process to create NDSU's 2020-25 strategic plan. The final “roadmap for the university” is expected to be drafted by August.

Survey participants identified NDSU’s research capacity and agricultural roots as strengths, the results said. NDSU is committed to “bringing world-class education” to the masses at a low cost, as well as doing research across the state, Bertolini said.


Many survey respondents appeared to want NDSU to improve its commitment to diversity. That included a diversity in perspectives, ethnicities, gender and non-traditional student groups.

Several respondents noted limited online classes and programs.

Bertolini said both a physical presence and expanded online services are needed to succeed. “We need to be able to reach individuals who cannot come here,” he said.