Abbott tells audience that USD must chart its own future course

Abbott tells audience that USD must chart its own future course by David Lias In just a few weeks, South Dakotans will be going to the polls to elect a governor, legislators, and decide other ballot issues.

But because of the very nature of state operations, the early November vote probably will have little impact on The University of South Dakota, said President James Abbott during a question and answer period following his annual State of the University address Tuesday afternoon.

"Our state is heavily gubernatorial-ruled in terms of the budget," he said. "The budget is introduced by or on behalf of the governor in the Legislature. The Legislature can vote on all types of bills but it can't fund them, because you vote either yes or no on the Appropriations Bill and the governor has control of that. To the extent that we have a governor who is very much pro-education, of course we do better."

Abbott noted that of the state's $1.9 billion total budget, $1.7 billion passes from the federal government. "Seven hundred million dollars comes into our coffers each year and is disseminated across the state, and of that $700 million, $105 million goes to higher education. I doubt we're going to see significantly increased dollars from any Legislature."

Before the question and answer session, Abbott spoke to an audience largely made up of university faculty and students. In his comprehensive speech, he outlined the university's accomplishments in the last year, and shared his vision of the institution's future.

He was asked about improving relations between residents of Vermillion who have no direct ties to the university and the community of USD. Abbott said the relationship often is rocky because many Vermillion citizens are of the mistaken impression that they've paid for services on the campus when in fact they haven't always done so.

"I often hear people tell me that they paid for the Dome. The truth is that local citizens didn't pay for the Dome, the great deal of the dollars raised and our citizens paid specifically came from an activity fee," Abbott said. "I say this only because there is a general misconception about buildings on campuses in general, and it's not just in Vermillion, it's in all (university) towns."

Abbott said USD does have a committee working on community/university relations.

Abbott said the DakotaDome is a great facility, but is a limited facility. He proposed, in his State of the University Address, that USD consider several building improvements, including a new structure to house the medical school, and a new building that would be used for home basketball games and as a wellness center for the university and community.

"The Dome is a good facility, but it needs to be used all the time, 16 to 18 hours a day, not eight or nine, and it needs to be available to all the students, the faculty, and the perhaps the public as well," Abbott said.

New building construction could be made possible through fund drives. "It will depend on a lot of things," he said. "It will depend on the students' acceptance of that kind of facility, whether they are able to pay for it through student activity fees, and it will depend perhaps on other governmental entities' willingness to participate as well as the ability and willingness of our alums and benefactors to support that kind of a building."

Abbott said he is well aware that the university's future depends on everything from public sentiment to action by the Legislature and the Board of Regents. That doesn't mean, however, that USD shouldn't try to navigate its own course and set its own goals.

"There's no question that we have a long way to go, but I sympathize with people who say to me 'what's really the point?' I only know if we don't make our plans and chart our own course," he said, "we have no alternative but to expect that kind of course which is promoted and drawn up for us.

"I don't think the University of South Dakota is just the same as five other public universities in this state," Abbott added.

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