Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks has survived much since it first opened its doors in 1884. In 1887, a tornado demolished most of the university. In 1919, the institution was among the hardest hit in the country a deadly flu epidemic, and in 1970, it was the site of some of North Dakota’s largest protests after Kent State shootings. Flooding has also been problematic, with the Red River inundating portions of the campus in 1997. Most recently, the university faced the controversy over the ‘Fighting Sioux’ mascot. Despite these obstacles, the greatest challenge to the university came in the form of budget cuts in 1895, stemming from the panic of 1893 – the most serious depression the country had seen to that time. Railroads went bankrupt, crops were poor, farm prices were low and tax revenue subsequently plummeted.
Faced with tough decisions, North Dakota Governor Roger Allin vetoed the educational appropriations made by the state legislature. The move was unprecedented, and cut the funding to each of the state’s schools by up to 80%. At UND, the $63,000 two-year appropriation was cut to less than $16,000. This was just enough to pay the operational costs of the current semester, meaning the university would have to close in a matter of months.
After Allin’s announcement, university students, officials, and Grand Forks citizens held a meeting on this date in 1895 to discuss the future of the school. They created a statement to help solicit private funds that read, “Shall the University of North Dakota be closed? This is the question which confronts the people of the state. The closing of the university would be a calamity in many ways. It would advertise to the world that North Dakota is either unwilling or unable to maintain for her sons and daughters an institution of higher learning.”
In a show of great support and generosity, the Grand Forks community came together and raised nearly $10,000 for the school. Faculty members donated a quarter of their own salaries, and contributions from private citizens elsewhere brought the total raised to nearly $26,000 within a month. The episode represented the closest instance that the university had come to closing its doors, but also served to bind the school and the Grand Forks community together in the face of adversity.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines of American History. Liberty Press: New York: pp. 567-9.