I live in a land of austerity, and I’m not just talking about the scenery. When most people think about North Dakota — if, indeed, they ever do — they probably imagine bare, ice-crusted prairies swept clean by wind. They see the clichés, in other words, not the reality — the towns that are, in fact, aesthetically identical to so many in America, with all the usual houses and shopping malls and parks and freeways. On the campus where I work, though, austerity has many meanings and many guises. Some of them you can see, like the swaths of new grass that grow where historic buildings stood just last year, before they were demolished in the name of maintenance backlogs. Most, though, are invisible.
Starting in 2016, our state university system endured three successive rounds of annual budget cuts, with average 10-percent reductions resulting in a loss of more than a third of the system’s overall funding. Additional cuts, even, were on the table this past year. And while our state legislators ultimately avoided taking yet one more stab at the dismembered body of higher education, there has been no discussion of restoring any of those funds.