Regents’ discussion focuses on research

Regents' discussion focuses on research Harvey Jewett, president of the South Dakota Board of Regents, stands by a chart showing the level of research and development being conducted at public universities in the state. South Dakota lags far behind the national average and many neighboring states. by David Lias Members of the South Dakota Board of Regents spelled out their goals for higher education's future in a public meeting held in the Al Neuharth Media Center on The University of South Dakota campus Wednesday night.

They hope to enact several policies, ranging from giving every qualified South Dakotan access to public postsecondary education, to striving to make public universities and special schools deliver educational services more efficiently.

One of the regents' goals receiving a great deal of attention from the meeting's audience has to do with research and development in South Dakota.

"How do we increase the contribution of higher education to state wealth with a knowledge based economy that's done by building your research infrastructure?" said

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Robert T. Tad Perry, the regents' executive director. "We are terribly underdeveloped in research and development, and we've got to figure out how to close that gap as quickly as we can."

As Perry spoke, a large chart showing public higher education research and development efforts in Midwestern states was placed on an easel. South Dakota ranks near the bottom, far below the national average, and is currently being outstripped in R&D by Montana, North Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota.

"The board has a proposal to the governor for the budget to make a significant investment in research infrastructure and to go forward," he said. "We will know when he puts his budget together how much he can afford to do at this time."

Perry said that education's culture must change in South Dakota before progress can be made in this area.

"We have never had a research culture or expectation," he said. "We have had a teaching culture in the state's public higher education. We expect the institutions to produce graduates, and we expect the faculty to teach to that goal or outcome.

"Research is a different animal," Perry said. "You don't teach 12 hour credit hours and do quality research, and you can't be productive. We have to change our expectations, we have to change how we pay people, how we evaluate people, and that is a shift not only in the state policy-maker arena, and the citizenry arena, it's also a change in the university arena of how you treat that issue."

District 17 State Sen. Joe Reedy couldn't help but notice how the chart showing South Dakota being outpaced in research and development efforts.

"What does Iowa do that South Dakota isn't doing?" he asked. "You have a such a vast spread."

Perry said Iowa has two public universities that have long histories of being engaged in research.

"You have the kind of graduate degree programs that support a very active research and development component," he said. "If you look at South Dakota, we only have nine Ph.D programs that are in science and engineering fields. North Dakota right now is starting 21 new Ph.D programs, and I haven't even begun to count what you have at (the University of) Iowa and Iowa State, but it's got to be hundreds of Ph.D programs.

"We just haven't invested in that research culture or infrastructure," Perry said.

"North Dakota spends a little over $100 million more on its public higher education, and they have fewer students than we do," said Harvey Jewett, president of the Board of Regents. "They've got about 3,000 to 4,000 fewer students than South Dakota."

District 17 Rep. Donna Schafer asked the regents if they have any specific plans for the direction research should take in South Dakota.

"Yes and no. A little bit will be who has got the gold gets to rule on that," Jewett said. "I'm sure the governor, as he gets that through the Legislature and allocates funds, will want to have an impact on the subjects that that money will go to.

"At least at first, we ought to spend money on research in areas that we are in, where we can proceed," he said.

South Dakota educators currently are carrying out research and development in the fields of medicine, agriculture, and metal components.

"If you want to do research, it's really a multi-legged process," Jewett said. "If we're going to have professors do research, we have to have somebody teach their courses, so we're going to need some money for some professors to teach. And we have to have a place for them to do research, and we need graduate students.

"All of those things don't spring full bloom in the first year of appropriations," he said. "Research is a long process. It's something you have to stay with, it's not a one-time deal and it can take a lot of years to come to fruition. But we'll start, and I think we'll start in a competitive basis in those areas we're already in, and where we can make some real progress relatively quickly to keep the state interested in the process."

"What we've asked for is a limited number of slots for research and graduate assistants, and we're going to be able to do it across the board," Perry said. "We're going to have to be very strategic in trying to build a research base within very select, very narrow niches where we might make a contribution."

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