Regents are asked to decide the mission for each of South Dakota’s public universities

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Legislature’s directive that South Dakota’s state-run universities be examined for efficiencies has led to another challenge for the state Board of Regents.

The regents may decide what the missions should be for the six campuses in Vermillion, Brookings, Madison, Aberdeen, Rapid City and Spearfish.

That was one of the recommendations from the Senate Bill 55 work discussed Wednesday.

Regent Joan Wink of Howes said the board needs to rethink what each campus should be doing.

“This is a big thing, but it might really help us,” Wink said.

Black Hills State University president Laurie S. Nichols served with Wink on the SB 55 academic committee. Nichols said they went so far as to examine the state laws creating the various campuses.

“It was a 100-year lookback,” Nichols said. She added, “It really is up to the board now to take this up and decide what to do.”

Janice Minder, the regents’ vice president for academic policy and planning, said the work could take two years and she suggested tapping a neutral expert.

“We have some difficult conversations if we really want to look at these missions,” Minder said. The university presidents need to be involved too in what she described as “a partnership.”

“You want to be able to speak honestly,” Minder said.

Said Wink, “It needs leadership from us on the board to drive it.”

Regent Pam Roberts of Pierre volunteered, “We support it.”

University of South Dakota president Sheila Gestring said the school of health sciences has grown to the second-largest enrollment on the Vermillion campus.

“So I think it’s a really good idea to revisit and review those mission statements periodically, because the world evolves and we need to evolve with them,” Gestring said.

Board president John Bastian of Belle Fourche said the universities need to stay current. “Where we had a major emphasis 20 years, it’s not there any more,” he said.

Regent Tim Rave of Baltic said he looks forward to “a challenging discussion and debate to come up, to really clarify those buckets and what they look like.”

Among the many recommendations the board discussed for its final report to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations and Governor Kristi Noem was a proposal on energy savings.

Regents vice president of finance and administration Heather Forney said a consultant has estimated the campuses could see a net savings of $1 million to $1.5 million per year, largely by modifying when rooms and buildings are lighted, cooled and heated.

Forney said the SB 55 infrastructure committee wants the Legislature to let the regents keep the savings, rather than return it to state government’s general fund, and use the money for energy-efficiency projects.

“It would be a boon for us,” Forney said.

Regent Roberts, who’s been a chief of operations and a cabinet secretary for various governors, supported part of the proposal — letting the regents keep part of the savings to pay the consultant — while questioning the rest.

“But I just don’t know how you justify taking the Legislature that keeps giving us that money and we do whatever we want with it. It’s just contrary to the appropriations, my personal appropriations philosophy from state resources,” Roberts said.

Forney explained she wanted to show the recommendation to the board. “I think it’s important for us to hear how you all feel about it, and then you get to make the decision as the board ultimately what direction you want to go,” Forney said.

The draft legislation will be part of the package brought to the board in December for decisions on what should be introduced in January for lawmakers to consider.

No one else spoke either way.

“It lives another day,” president Bastian declared.

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