Robert Wagner became president in 1985 after serving a very short time as chief administrator of Dakota State University. He held a doctorate from South Dakota State University, had been a teacher and administrator here and throughout the regental system.
Wagner led the school from a controversial era into a decidedly more tranquil time. His quiet attention to the internal workings of the college, rather than external politics, worked well and resulted in a great deal of growth. Despite constant budget problems under his administration, the campus expanded by more than 380,000 square feet. Twenty-two faculty were added, and technology became a major factor in the university. The College of Education and Counseling was formed, and many buildings were built, including Berg and Bailey Apartments (now Meadows Apartments), the Animal Disease Research, and the Northern Plains Biostress Laboratory.