Regent director sees university’s ‘dark side’

Regent director sees university's 'dark side'
South Dakota's public institutions of higher learning usually show off their bright spots to prospective students and their parents.

Robert T. Tad Perry, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents, didn't receive such treatment after arriving in Vermillion Monday.

During his annual tour of the USD campus, he was shown what has been described as the university's darker, deeper corners in some of its facilities.

"We spend the winter months with the Legislature in Pierre, and we do this (conduct campus tours) in the spring," Perry said during a meeting with USD students and faculty Monday afternoon at the Al Neuharth Media Center. The tours are designed to allow state universities to provide input on future needs to the regents.

Perry noted that higher education fared well in Pierre earlier this year, with the Legislature granting approximately a 5.5 percent public higher education budget increase.

"If you think that isn't enough, call your peers in other states and ask them how they did, and I'll suspect you'll find that a 5.5 percent increase is pretty good," Perry said. "I was pleased with what we were able to accomplish funding-wise with the Legislature."

USD specifically made some gains, including the funding a new chemistry doctoral program funded by the state.

"We ended up with some money for technology, and we got the utility budget funded for next year so we won't have to take that out of instruction or someplace else," he said.

Perry noted that USD also received funding in its research pool, thanks to the Legislature and the regents moving dollars from one funding source to another.

"The funding source wasn't new, but what is new is that it is now permanent in the budget of universities, where it had been one-time money before," he said.

One of the more controversial issues raised in Pierre during the last legislative session dealt with the governance of technical institutes in the South Dakota.

The technical schools now are run for the most part by the K-12 school boards in the communities that host them. The state Board of Education also offers some guidance. That has left the post-high school programs as almost an afterthought in education, proponents of an independent board argued on the floors of the South Dakota House and Senate.

Opponents said the new board would be another level of bureaucracy, an argument Gov. Mike Rounds, who vetoed the legislation, used several times.

The regents also opposed the bill, arguing that the state constitution gives it responsibility for all post-high school education.

On the last day of the legislative session in March, lawmakers were unable to override Rounds' veto.

"We ended the session right where we started the session," Perry said. "The technical schools still belong to the K-12 school districts. The only question is whether they (lawmakers) will be back with another bill in 2008."

Perry said the regents prefer that no changes be made to governance of the state's technical schools.

"If they (technical schools) aren't willing to stay within the K-12 system, our second preference would be to sit down with them and figure out how to accomplish their objectives within the framework of the Constitution," he said.

If that alternative fails, the last option left for regents is to get a more precise definition of their role in technical school governance by seeking a court decision.

"The courts will have to make a decision on what the Constitutional language means and what the Board of Regents thinks it means," Perry said. "It will be nothing more than defining the playing field for the discussion that we may have in 2008."

Perry also noted that regents approved a 6.3 percent tuition and fee increase at its meeting two weeks ago.

"It is a little higher than what the board likes to have," he said. "It is higher because we had a unique situation; we had two bills that we introduced outside of the governor's recommendation."

One bill called for $8.5 million of funding of critical maintenance items on university campuses dealing with facilities.

Regents also introduced a bill asking for $2.8 million of revenue for the purchase of new technology on campuses.

Eventually, they had to compromise. The Legislature agreed to pay for new technology if the regents found a way to fund needed facilities maintenance.

"We had to increase student fees to pay for the $8.5 million bond, and that drove the bottom line up over the 6 percent range that we've had as a general target," Perry said.

He noted that South Dakota's K-12 school systems are making improvements in technology, including the issuance of laptop computers to students.

"Universities are not making comparable investments in technologies," Perry said. "The board is going to have to think about that and deal with it, so over the next several months, that's going to be an issue we will have to take a hard look at."

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