RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — The task force assigned to dig into South Dakota’s public universities system began with a look into the past Thursday.
The group heard from state legislators about what led to the passage of Senate Bill 55 and then reached much farther back, as Tad Perry reviewed his time as executive director for the state Board of Regents, from 1994 into 2009, as well as some of those before him.
One was was Robert Gibb. The regents hired him in April 1968, not long after the Legislature created the position that then was known as commissioner of higher education. Gibb assembled an extensive team of advisors and produced in 1970 a master plan.
Perry said some of the recommendations from the controversial Gibb report were accomplished during the 20 years that he and Howell Todd, his immediate predecessor, served as executive director. “It was not forgotten,” Perry said.
The legislation that created the task force calls for a report to be delivered to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations and the governor no later than November 15, 2021.
Senator Ryan Maher, an Isabel Republican, originally wanted a plan for combining the administration of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City and Black Hills State University in Spearfish.
Lawmakers expanded Senator Maher’s concept into a study that also looks for ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the administration at the four other traditional campuses as well: Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota State University at Brookings, University of South Dakota in Vermillion and Dakota State University at Madison. It also calls for the panel to look at the viability of the university centers in Rapid City and Sioux Falls.
The task force heard Thursday from a panel of people who had helped lead South Dakota’s system.
They included retired University of South Dakota president Jim Abbott (1997-2018), retired Black Hills State University president Kay Schallenkamp (2006-2014), former regent Kathy Johnson of Rapid City (2005-2017), and former regent Pat Lebrun of Rapid City (1987-2005).
“For me this is like being in time warp,” Lebrun said.
Johnson said efficiency and affordability were two constant goals when she served as a regent. Johnson said online technology wasn’t as accepted a decade ago, and the university centers that were built in Rapid City and Sioux Falls during Perry’s time were seen as “the front door” to helping meet the needs of South Dakota’s two largest communities.
Schallenkamp noted that a study from the early 2000s that looked at combining BHSU and School of Mines wasn’t mentioned. The final report called for the two universities to work closely but didn’t recommend making them into one operation. BHSU now manages the Rapid City university center that was built later.
Asked what the task force should address, the four offered their perspectives. Among the highlights:
Johnson said the regents “have done a fairly good job, some of it at the insistence of the Legislature.” Johnson suggested looking at what could be added “to keep up with the marketplace.”
Schallenkamp said she hopes the universities and regents would be recognized as having been responsive. “We haven’t just blown away or ignored the suggestions,” Schallenkamp said.
Abbott, a former legislator and in 2002 the Democratic nominee for governor, suggested keeping in mind that “the institutions offer an outstanding education at a reasonable price.” Abbott said university centers need to be considered for how they can fill students’ needs.
Lebrun said educated people are important to South Dakota. “Unemployed people are a cost to the state, and employed people are a benefit to the state,” Lebrun said. She urged South Dakota to provide more financial help to needy students.
Perry said agreement on a long-term set of policy goals would be “a real service” to South Dakota.
The 3-hour and 40-minute video can be seen here.