Things appear to be turning a corner at Dickinson State University.
After five years of enrollment and foundation scandals, questionable accreditation, shrinking enrollment and an overall lack of trust in the university, it seems that better days aren’t just on the horizon, they’re here. While we won’t know official enrollment numbers for a while, they appear — at least on the surface — to be either steady or up. Students are happy to be back at the university, and the community is happy to have them back.
The oil boom is in the past and Dickinson is beginning to look more and more like the college town of year’s past.
There’s a positive buzz around DSU that I haven’t seen since the mid-2000s when I first came back to Dickinson. Even the football team is back in the Top 20 of the NAIA national poll.
A lot of this is thanks to DSU President Tom Mitzel, his contagious enthusiasm and the people with whom he surrounds himself. If you’ve ever met the man, you can tell he genuinely cares about the future of the university and he’s candid about the negative stuff surrounding DSU.
This summer, I ran into Mitzel at the Roughrider Days Rodeo. He’d walked over from his office in May Hall and was decked out in DSU gear. He leaned up against the southwest gates of the arena next to me, and we watched the rodeo and chatted while I took pictures. After a while, I had to run to interview one of the cowboys, so he walked to another group of folks and spoke with them.
Had you not known the man, you’d never have known he was president of the city’s university. I can’t even think of a recent DSU president who would have done the same.
Mitzel entered his role at the university during a time in which troubles engulfed it — namely the continuing issues surrounding the dissolvement of the DSU Foundation. Those problems, however, appear to be slowly nearing an end. Mitzel picked up where interim university president Jim Ozbun left off and is slowly making DSU a better place.
The new DSU Heritage Foundation, which replaced the old foundation, is slowly gaining traction with alumni and donors, and is establishing a new trust within the community.
As for the old foundation, court hearings for the state’s case against it for its misuse of pledged scholarship dollars are scheduled for late October and early November.
We know it won’t be pretty. Attorneys for the state attorney general’s office have already said in court that a person who’d play a big role in those proceedings plans to assert his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in the case. This is typically done so a person can’t incriminate themselves through testimony. We’ll learn more about that situation in the coming months.
The Press also learned late this week that Blue Hawk Square — the foundation-led student housing project built a couple of years ago and attached to the Oasis Motel on West Villard Street — has absolutely no students in it. Why? We hope to find out this week.
Nonetheless, on Tuesday, the first aspect of the DSU Foundation saga was resolved when First International Bank and Trust took over ownership of the Hawks Point assisted living facility on DSU’s campus.
The home, which was previously owned and managed by Dickinson Investments — a group whose loans were backed by the DSU Foundation — underwent foreclosure and sheriff’s sale with First International assuming the bulk of the facility’s debt. Bills that went unpaid are now being paid. Staff that haven’t gotten a raise for two years will soon see a bump in pay.
Clearly, change for the better is happening at DSU and for the institutions it’s connected to. After more than five years of struggle, strife and problems at the College on the Hill, happier days are slowly coming — just in time for the school’s 100th anniversary next year.