Message from President Cook 2/28/2023

Message from President Cook

February 28, 2023

Dear NDSU Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni and Friends,

I want to provide an update regarding our initiatives to transform NDSU, including decisions on our college mergers, academic leadership, strategic reduction and strategic investment plans. I appreciate the significant feedback I’ve received from all of you, including over 700 written responses.  That feedback has continued to inform our decision making and refine our efforts. I would again also like to thank our deans who have shown tremendous leadership over the past several months helping us navigate these challenging times. 

  1. College Mergers and Academic Leadership.

I recently asked Dean Chuck Peterson, as NDSU’s most senior dean, to convene a special meeting of the deans to receive their input regarding: (1) the college merger plan and (2) the provost position.  I did not attend the meeting to encourage open discussion.  Dean Peterson reported back that the deans were unanimous in their support for the merger plan, which includes consolidating our seven colleges down to five.  After receiving additional campus input this past month, we have made a few slight modifications to the plan.  The organization structure with the most recent changes highlighted can be found here

A critical part of the realignment process is college leadership. We need deans who combine academic and administrative excellence with financial acumen.  We are in an excellent position with our existing deans and plans to recruit nationally to fill several open positions. Here is the status of college leadership:      

  1. College of Arts and Sciences.  The current College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences is being merged with the College of Science and Mathematics and being renamed the College of Arts and Sciences.  Kimberly Wallin will continue to be the dean of the re-named college. Kimberly has exhibited courageous and strong leadership through recent changes.  I am extremely pleased and supportive of her efforts. Please join me in congratulating Dean Wallin.
  2. College of Business. The College of Business national dean search is currently being conducted.  Applications are due by March 1, and we expect finalists to be on campus by April.  This process is moving forward smoothly and I am excited to meet the candidates. 
  1. College of Health Professions and Human Sciences.  Dean Peterson will be retiring this May after a long and successful career at NDSU.  We will be starting a national search for the new dean this fall.  I have asked the Provost to start an internal search for an interim dean to serve until the permanent dean begins.
  2. College of Engineering. Alan Kallmeyer has begun his role as Interim Dean, while also filling the role of Interim Dean of the College of Business. I am extremely appreciative of Alan’s commitment to the university as he balances these two roles.  We will start a national search for a new engineering dean in the fall of 2024.
  1. College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources. Greg Lardy continues to fill the role of Dean; however, David Buchanan, the long-standing and successful Associate Dean of the College recently announced his retirement.  The Provost and I are working with Dr. Lardy and his leadership team to determine next steps with filling the Associate Dean position.
  1. Provost. In addition to the college merger plan, the Deans also believed that stability at the Provost position is needed. With the transformation we are going through, including several dean searches, having certainty and expertise in the Provost role is critical to ensuring our success. 

At this point in the academic calendar, a national Provost search would not be feasible until the fall semester, with an expected hire some time in the spring semester of 2024.  The new provost would then require numerous months to become familiar with NDSU.  We would have to postpone the deans’ searches pending the conclusion of the provost search because many top candidates would be reluctant to apply with an interim provost.  This entire process would cause significant delays which would exacerbate our problems rather than alleviate them.   

Understanding this situation, the Deans unanimously supported to have Interim Provost Bertolini continue in his role for a term of three years, followed by a search for a permanent provost.  This is a strong vote of confidence from the Deans in David’s leadership as he has helped us through these difficult financial and organizational challenges.  In addition, I consulted with the Chancellor and the Chair of the State Board of Higher Education, who support this decision.  I have also discussed this matter with the leadership of each of the Senates and our equity office to ensure compliance with our hiring policies.  I concur with the Deans’ vote of confidence, and I am appointing David Bertolini as Provost with a fixed term of three years starting March 1, with a search to follow.  This stability will allow Provost Bertolini to continue working on our transformation activities and will allow our dean searches to proceed without delay.  Please join me in congratulating Provost Bertolini. 

  1. Strategic Reductions.

Last month, I proposed a series of strategic reductions and investments, and I asked for community input.  We received considerable feedback, and I want to thank everyone who took time to provide their thoughts.  These are not easy decisions which is reflected in those comments.  Just like the material we received regarding the college mergers, the comments are available on the provost’s website here.

Last month, the proposals included a total reduction of 34.5 FTE positions, which included 26 current employees and 8.5 FTE vacant lines.  Those proposals can be found here.  After reviewing comments and exploring new academic arrangements, we may be able to reduce the number of reductions to 27.5 FTE which would include 19 current employees and 8.5 FTE vacant lines.  These FTE reductions do not include the two dean positions that are being eliminated as a result of the college mergers.

In order to achieve these changes, we analyzed student and workforce demand in the impacted departments of Earth, Environmental, and Geospatial Sciences as well as Hospitality and Event Management.  By aligning portions of these departments with other academic units, we may be able to keep a limited portion of the academic offerings.  The Provost and Deans are working with these units to explore these possibilities. These changes will likely still involve the termination of tenured faculty, and therefore we will follow guidelines required by  NDSU Policy 350.3. 

Beyond those two departments, twelve additional non-tenured faculty positions are being reduced in other departments (i.e., these are part of the 34.5/27.5 referenced above).  All employees whose position is affected are having one-on-one meeting with their Deans today.  We will be working with each of these employees to coordinate their remaining time with the university and our teach-out obligations for students in the impacted majors.

We also received considerable feedback related to the elimination of the Agricultural Systems Management major. As a result of that feedback, we will be merging the Precision Agriculture and Agricultural Systems Management majors together. The merger will still require difficult budget decisions, but it will allow us to offer two options in the new major to students that will meet the evolving needs of the workforce going forward.

All current and prospective students whose majors are affected by these cuts are being advised by NDSU personnel on their options.  Every current student has the option of continuing until graduation with their current major. 

  1. Strategic Investments.

We cannot transform NDSU by simply making reductions; we must reinvest in ways to enhance our student experience.  Our enrollment issues are going to become more difficult in the future with increased competition from other institutions and demographic changes that will see fewer high school graduates in coming years.  Another challenge relates to policy-makers in Minnesota who are exploring a tuition freeze for public universities and “free” college for families with an annual salary less than $120,000.  More than 50% of our student population are Minnesota residents. I do not know whether these initiatives will succeed, but the trend line is clear.  We will be facing stiffer competition for a reduced number of students for years to come.

With the current academic year coming to a close, we need to initiate limited and strategic investments to help with enrollment, retention and student success.  Given this situation, I have asked Provost Bertolini to immediately implement the following strategic investments:

  1. Professional Advising.  We need to ensure that more students that start at NDSU complete their degree programs.  The best way to do this is to provide excellent comprehensive advising services to our 1st and 2nd year students through professional advisors.  This benefits our retention efforts and reduces the load on faculty enabling them to concentrate on teaching and research.
  2. Creating Fully Online Programs.  We take pride in our traditional, in-person education, and we should.  However, we need to strategically augment our current program offerings with fully-online degrees aimed at non-traditional student populations and the workforce needs of North Dakota.  Moving forward, we will launch new online programs aimed at addressing the state’s high-demand workforce needs.  These programs will help students achieve their professional goals while mitigating the state’s workforce shortages and alleviating NDSU’s enrollment shortages.
  3. Bison Bridge Program. This is a successful program that we terminated years ago due to budget shortfalls.  Starting immediately, we will revitalize this initiative, learning from our past efforts, to prioritize how we recruit, retain, and invest in first generation, Pell-eligible and students of color. The program consists of programming before the first week of school, mentoring throughout the academic year, along with assistance with summer internship and scholarships for underserved students.
  1. Legislative Budget Impact.

Additional investments will be dependent upon the result of the legislative process.  Right now, the Legislature has reached the “cross-over” phase, where bills pass to the other chamber of legislature for further consideration.  We want to thank the Legislature, particularly the members of the House Appropriations – Education and Environmental Division and the Government Operations Division, for their hard work and support of our budget priorities.  We will have greater certainty for our budget situation at the end of legislative session in April. 

  1. Budget Model and Financial Services.

Finally, the work on the new incentivized budget model and restructured financial services is continuing.  The new model and services structure will be in place by July 1, which corresponds with the day that we will convert from seven colleges to five. With these changes, NDSU is evolving its financial operations to meet our changing world. 

I want to thank every member of our community for their commitment to NDSU and its mission.  That support is never more important than when difficult decisions are necessary.  As we move forward together through these tumultuous times, I’m confident that NDSU will be in a stronger position to serve its mission as the state’s 1862 Land Grant University.


My best,

David Cook, President

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