In his continuing quest to keep the community aware of and involved in what is happening at Montana State University-Northern, Chancellor Jim Limbaugh held another of his regular Chancellor’s Open Forums Wednesday afternoon, this time to focus on legislative issues.
A little more than a dozen attendees, almost entirely Northern faculty and staff, joined Limbaugh in Hensler Auditorium to hear updates on what is happening at and to Northern.
Limbaugh described a shift he is seeing take hold across the country, where institutions of higher learning are asked more and more to quantify their effects by mandated rubrics, create statistics and tie funding to those numbers.
In Montana, Limbaugh said that the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education was organizing several panels to speak to the Legislature about the economic and cultural ripples that Montana’s colleges and universities’ generate, that sweep across the state.
One group discussed energy production, the necessity of petroleum programs at Montana Tech and Northern’s biodiesel. Others discussed contributions to art, culture and the importance of community engagement.
Limbaugh also told the group about Gov. Steve Bullock’s visit to Northern today, to see the effects himself, and how much greater they could be with a renewed Automotive Technology building.
That $8 million project was ranked the fourth most important in former Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s Long Range Building Plan, which recommended $3 million come from the state government, asking Northern to raise the remaining $5 million.
Limbaugh said Wednesday that the project had been pushed up to third place, and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian had arranged to get $5 million from the state, reducing Northern’s contribution to $3 million.
That is still too high, though, according to both Limbaugh and Dean of the College of Technical Sciences Greg Kegel.
Kegel said that he worried that the Legislature’s lack of commitment could result in Northern only being able to afford a building half the size that would be less useful than the aging building there now.
Whatever ends up happening won’t even really begin until the Legislature starts talking about the bonding bill that would include the building. That would put the final go-ahead in the summer, and a possible groundbreaking in the fall.
Kegel estimated a finished product two summers from now.
Limbaugh also mentioned work on an incident management plan, in response to all of the recent school shootings, to replace Northern’s current plan which has remained untouched for several years.