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BSU/NTC President Richard Hanson says he'll stay put

Bemidji State University/Northwest Technical College President Richard Hanson says he's staying in Bemidji. Hanson was nominated for the position of chancellor for the North Dakota State University System, but says he will not apply. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

With applications due in a few weeks for the North Dakota University System chancellor's job, Richard Hanson said he's not going anywhere.

Last month, a former colleague nominated Hanson for the position, but the president at Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College said he won't apply for the job.

Hanson, who grew up in North Dakota, is now in his second year in Bemidji.

A Dec. 7 letter nominated Hanson for the job overseeing North Dakota's five community colleges, four regional universities and two research universities. The letter writer, Daniel Hanson, president of Peru State College in Nebraska, worked under Richard Hanson at Iowa's Waldorf College.

"I'm in the middle of stuff here in Bemidji," Richard Hanson said recently in response to a question about whether he'd apply.

Instead, Hanson said he's focused on long-range planning for BSU and NTC after initially seeing a controversial start in the Northland.

Early during Hanson's first year in Bemidji, with the wind chill nearing 10 degrees below, dozens gathered on campus last Feb. 1 to protest changes announced by Hanson and his leadership team.

Beneath the archway outside Deputy Hall, protesters made their thoughts known by the signs they carried:

"Hey Paul Bunyan there's a new hatchet man in Bemidji."

"BSU removes the heart from fine art."

Hanson's plan called for fixing a $5 million budget shortfall by reducing 30 staff positions between the BSU and Northwest Technical College and eliminating the art history and theatre programs at BSU.

The recalibration plan, Hanson's first initiative at the helm of both colleges, brought a mix of reactions from the higher education community and general public.

"Last year was very challenging," Hanson said in a recent interview. "I'm here a month and we've got major budget issues. That pretty much covered last year."

Now, one year later, in the wake of those efforts, Hanson believes both BSU and NTC are on track. He said he has been impressed by faculty and staff adapting to the changes that were made.

"Because of the cuts faculty had to make a lot of adjustments," he said. "Programs had to be changed. They've stepped up."

Some administrators and faculty feared the recalibration plan would have a negative impact on student enrollment, but this year, BSU's fall enrollment held steady.

Recalibration ripples were felt in other ways, however.

'It was just painful'

At the start of this academic year, Hanson said some faculty and staff reported more students per class and fewer sections of classes offered in some programs.

At NTC, student enrollment dropped by 10 percent, but Hanson attributed the decline to the large number of displaced workers who graduated from NTC last spring.

"I'm a little concerned about that," he said, referring to the enrollment drop. "We're addressing that aggressively and seeing if we can't bring more students over there."

Looking back, Hanson said he made a few wrong decisions regarding the recalibration plan. While he would not go into specifics on those decisions, he hinted it was in the way he communicated the plan to the students, faculty and the community.

Recalibration did not go badly, he said, "it was just painful."

"It wasn't a perfect process, but it got us to where we needed to be," he added.

Hanson was not the first BSU president to announce a plan to reduce the budget by $5 million. In 2007, former BSU President Jon Quistgaard announced some academic programs, including theatre, German and anthropology, faced potential cuts. This was part of his plan to reduce, restructure and invest resources in light of the budget reduction.

In 2008 some staffing positions were reduced and BSU reorganized its three colleges. The theatre program, however, remained.

Task force 2025

Hanson and his leadership team now have a new plan to move BSU and NTC forward. While it appears to be in its early stages of development, his plan consists of gathering input from faculty, staff and students on key issues.

Eight committees have been designated by Hanson to discuss topics like science, technology, engineering and math, the future of the American Indian Resource Center, access and partnerships, Title IX and athletics, Division II sports, Division I hockey and restructuring and reorganization, among others.

Hanson said he would like to see BSU place a greater focus on American Indian education, particularly in raising the graduation rate among American Indian students.

Fewer than half, about 49 percent, of all students who attend BSU complete their degree in six years or less, Hanson said. Roughly 29 percent of American Indian students complete college in the same amount of time, he added.

Roger Aitken, a BSU alumnus and community representative who served on the 2010 BSU-NTC Presidential Search Advisory Committee, applauds Hanson's efforts to strengthen American Indian programs at BSU.

"He didn't have much experience in working with American Indian communities when he came on board at BSU, and he made some very difficult decisions to cut programs like foreign languages, but he did not eliminate any Indian programs on campus," he said. "In fact, he went the other way. Naturally, from my point of view, he's really doing well."

Hanson tasked each of the eight committees to come up with three to five goals by this February or early March on ways to best accommodate the students who will enrolling 13 years from now, which he calls his "task force on 2025."

This spring he said he expects to use what he learns from each committee and create a long-term plan.

"We're going to try and put them in some kind of order and see what comes out," he said.

Next year BSU and NTC are due for a major strategic planning effort, which Hanson admitted not being in support of.

"I'm not a big fan of the classic strategic plan because I don't know it impacts too much behavior," he said.

Hanson said he would rather involve more input from faculty, staff and students.

"It's not the administration's strategic plan or 20 peoples' strategic plan. It's a whole bunch of folks - over half the faculty. I like that," he said.

Finding new money

In addition to his "task force on 2025," Hanson said the BSU Foundation Board of Directors recently approved a large-scale fundraising campaign. This will likely involve asking for money through alumni, private resources, foundations, grants and contracts.

Hanson declined to talk specifics about the timeline or details of the campaign, but did say the current economy is one of the main reasons why a fundraising campaign is needed.

Support for higher education from the state is going down, he said, which often results in increased tuition.

Currently BSU's annual tuition ranks highest among seven four-year state universities in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

In order to bring in more non-state aid dollars, Hanson said BSU's financial endowment needs to be about three times larger.

"I think we have to plan for higher education that is more state-assisted than state-supported," he said.

While he did not say how long he hopes to stay on as president of BSU and NTC, Hanson said he intends to stay as long as it takes to complete the fundraising campaign.

"There are a lot of people who would say they are not big fans of me, but I still think stability and leadership and continuity is important," he said. "When you start a campaign you need to work on it for a while. That means we've got a few years yet."

Mixed reaction

The Pioneer attempted to contact all 15 members of the 2010 BSU and NTC Presidential Search Advisory Committee to speak about Hanson's performance.

Several could not be reached for comment.

One committee member refused to talk publicly.

Another, Jackie Ryder, who retired from Optivation (formerly the Center for Research and Innovation) as Hanson started his term, served as a member of the search committee.

Ryder said she has not heard much talk in the community, other than what she previously saw or heard on the news regarding the recalibration plan, about how Hanson is doing as president. Rather, she tends to hear more talk about hockey and the Sanford Center.

Ryder said she would like to see Hanson do more to promote BSU and NTC as important players in the community.

"Probably the university isn't doing enough to make it known to the community of its importance," she said. "It needs to be understood that without the institutions and the people in them, this community would be very different."

Aitken said he is pleased Hanson is attempting to increase its financial endowment.

"I'm really glad he's recognizing that," Aitken said. "There are a lot of really successful BSU alumni who are willing to participate if they are invited."

Carol Russell, a member of the BSU Alumni & Foundation board of directors and community representative on the 2010 presidential search committee, said she has been impressed with Hanson's role in strategic planning.

"What I really appreciated about him is his commitment to students as well as this region," she said.

Russell said she thinks the university has done a decent job when it comes to endowment building.

"BSU has been well served with a strong legacy of presidents in the past," Russell said. "I think he is another person who will serve the university well as far as making it all it can be."