WDAY: The News Leader

Published June 15, 2010, 03:30 PM

New president Bresciani takes the reins at NDSU

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The new president at North Dakota State University started his first day on the job Tuesday by telling student leaders that bigger is not always better.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The new president at North Dakota State University started his first day on the job Tuesday by telling student leaders that bigger is not always better.

Dean Bresciani succeeds Joseph Chapman, who spearheaded unprecedented growth at the university but resigned last December after criticism of his spending. That was followed by a state audit that found law violations and prompted two other high-profile resignations.

Bresciani's first order of business was meeting with elected student leaders, both of whom told the former Texas A&M University vice president they believe the most important number is the student-to-faculty ratio, not total enrollment.

"It's great to hear you say that. Especially coming from Texas, where bigger is always better," Bresciani responded, smiling.

During Chapman's tenure, NDSU's enrollment jumped from 9,500 students to more than 14,000. The university added more than 1 million square feet of new buildings, including two downtown campus facilities, one of which went $3.5 million over its $20 million price tag.

Interim president Richard Hanson was forced to put the brakes on expansion and endured a budget shortfall. He said the rapid growth caused money problems and a shortage of classroom space.

Student body president Kevin Black of Grand Forks asked Bresciani about NDSU's next level.

"Is it 20,000 students?" Black asked. "Is that the right number to measure our next step? Or is having one of the best student-faculty ratios around the next step? Setting the right metrics is very important."

Bresciani called Black's comments "phenomenally astute" and said he believes that student retention, graduation rates and faculty scholarships are better measures of success.

"Size is not relevant to the quality of experience and the prestige that comes with that," Bresciani said, using Ivy League schools and Duke as examples.

In separate interviews after the meeting, Black and student vice president Shawn Altofer of Mandan both described Bresciani as passionate.

"That was not rehearsed," Altofer said, laughing.

"Passionate is probably a strange word to use for a person on the first day," he said. "I can see the fire in his belly. He has come to campus without any hesitation or timidity."

Black said Bresciani's decision to meet first with campus leaders shows his focus on students and helping them to further school pride.

"The controversies that arose over the past year take a toll on everybody, whether you are faculty, staff or students," Black said. "But one thing that is very true is we're eager to move on."

Bresciani, 50, was vice president for student affairs at Texas A&M from 2004-08. He served as interim vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of North Carolina from 2002-04.

"I think people want us to be moving forward so I've been pleasantly surprised at how little people want to harbor and hover over the past," Bresciani said in an interview. "Frankly I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the past, because it's the past. It's the future of NDSU that brought me here."