Our overriding purpose at Bemidji State University is to prepare students for meaningful lives as contributing members of society. But what exactly does that involve? And how can we best accomplish it in an era of financial challenges and rapid change? Such questions are never far from my mind as president of this great university, and they have no single answer. But I am certain that an enormous amount of learning occurs outside the classroom, through nearly unlimited opportunities for self-discovery and personal growth. Intercollegiate athletics is a prime example.
The rich Green and White tradition of Beaver athletics is alive and well. One in every 10 students on campus is a member of our 14 men’s and women’s teams. These 350 student-athletes manage to juggle sports and course work, partnering with faculty and other mentors who help them make sure their studies come first. Along the way, they also receive invaluable lessons in leadership, teamwork and overcoming adversity. Their fellow students share in the excitement of athletics, gaining an important sense of identity and camaraderie that can inspire lifelong support for the university. Likewise, the success of our teams, particularly in men’s Division I hockey, has long been a source of entertainment and pride for the northern Minnesota region we call Beaver Nation.
Those many worthwhile outcomes are far from guaranteed, however. Athletic expenses include the coaching, scholarships, equipment, transportation and facilities that are vital to staying competitive now and in the future. The impact on our university budget is substantial, but it would be much higher if not for the backing of the amazing Beaver Pride organization and our other wonderful fans, loyal sponsors and generous donors.
A recent comprehensive review of our athletic program showed that in spite of our ongoing expenditures and private dollars, Bemidji State was relatively underfunded compared with its peers. This is not surprising, given our unique situation as a small, rural and comprehensive university whose competitors often have much bigger enrollments, are located in much larger and more affluent communities, and have many more alumni. We don’t expect to win every championship, but I think all who believe in BSU would agree that mediocrity is not a worthwhile objective, either.
So we are making a few changes that you may have read about in this newspaper in recent weeks. First of all, we are drawing the line on further increases in the share of BSU’s general fund spending for athletics in order to safeguard our other priorities, especially academic excellence. Secondly, we are seeking a new leader for our athletic department who can inspire even greater support from alumni, the business community and others. Thirdly, we are committed to giving our fans an unforgettable experience as they cheer on the Beavers, whether in the Sanford Center, BSU Gymnasium or Chet Anderson Stadium.
These vigorous efforts will hardly be an end in themselves. The beneficiaries will continue to be our students and the fine education they receive at Bemidji State. Go Green!
RICHARD A. HANSON is president of Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.