Amendment To Appoint A Chancellor Gets Edge Over Elected Chancellor Coming Out Of Committee

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Earlier this week Senator Joe Miller’s SCR4028, which would have created a board of regents consisting of the governor, the superintendent of public schools and the ag commissioner to oversee the university system, was voted down but not without members of the Senate expressing a desire for that sort of reform.

Now there are two resolutions left to eliminate the state Board of Higher Education and replace it with something else. Rep. Rick Becker’s resolution, HCR3042, would elect a chancellor and create a panel of appointees to advise him/her. Rep. Al Carlson’s resolution, HCR3047, would have the governor appoint a chancellor.

It’s hard to say which, if any, of these resolutions will pass but we have some clues from how they were handled in committee. Rep. Becker’s bill got a 9-4 “do not pass” recommendation from the House Education Committee. Rep. Carlson’s bill got a narrow 7-6 “do pass” recommendation.

Rep. Becker’s is the better of the two bills, though arguments I’ve heard from university system officials claim that electing a chancellor (or whatever these resolutions call the position) would expose the position to too much politics and may put accreditation for the state’s universities at risk. I don’t know how true a claim that is, but expect it to be an argument used against Rep. Becker’s bill.

But electing a chancellor would ensure that whoever holds that position has a mandate from the people to govern the system, and is more apt to be mindful of the public’s priorities in governing the university system (which, in the past, has been run for the benefit of the universities themselves). Of course, another risk is that North Dakota’s population which centers around the two campuses in the east is going to ensure that whoever gets elected to that position may be biased toward the universities in the east, NDSU and UND.

Which might be an argument for Rep. Carlson’s resolution, though the argument against that one may be that we set up our existing university system structure to move it away from the control of an out-of-control governor. I’ve never really bought that argument – it seems the solution for a corrupt governor is to not elect corrput governors rather than to strip the position of power for all succeeding governors – but you can bet it will be made if this resolution advances.

Both resolutions have merit, and would be a significant improvement over the status quo.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Rick Olson

    I’ve made these comments previously, so I apologize if I digress. Here’s an idea of how the higher education system can be made more accountable and transparent to the public. A constitutional amendment needs to be brought forward to completely revamp the governance of the higher education system.
    Here’s what I propose:

    Replace the current appointed Board of Higher Education with an elected Board of Regents. I would leave the chancellor position alone, but make it an appointed by the governor and serve at the governor’s pleasure position. It would be difficult to make it an elected position, such as the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It would be rather difficult in my opinion to find suitable candidates who meet the qualifications to be an elected official, PLUS have the necessary credentials as a higher education educator/administrator to run for the job.

    The governing board of higher education should consist of an elected Board of Regents. Here’s how that would work, in my opinion. The state would be divided into several districts, with one regent elected from each district. If there was a seven member board of regents, there would be seven board of regents districts. Four of the regents elected to a four year term, and three of the regents elected to a two year term, thus ensuring for a continuing body. The regents with two year terms could seek election to a four year term, thus staggering the expiration dates of the terms of each regent.

    By being elected officials, the regents would become more accountable to the people of the state. And for just cause, such as malfeasance in office, a regent could be removed from his/her position through a voter-initiated recall effort, through the gubernatorial removal process in which the governor can be called upon to investigate and if necessary, remove an elected or appointed official from office; or through the impeachment process of the Legislature.

    Just throwing some ideas out there…but really this would be a first step to some real reform and accountability in the higher education system, in my opinion.

    • Drain52

      I agree–the SBHE should definitely be elected positions. These people are spending 100’s of millions of our money they need to be accountable to the voter. The Chancellor should be appointed by SBHE, otherwise you’ve crippled the SBHE’s ability to oversee and direct the Chancellor. The governor could always give him cover if there were a disagreement on the direction of NDUS.

      We also need to open up the books to the legislature (at the minimum) and the people. No more Round Table. If NDUS gets money–grants, endowments, tuition, funds from general revenues, whatever, they need to account for it. When they spend money–on salaries, buildings, PR, whatever, they need to account for it.

      Finally, remove the named universities from the state constitution. Allow colleges and universities to compete and expand on their strengths, hold them accountable if they don’t.

      • Rick Olson

        That works for me. The Board should appoint the Chancellor and that person would serve at the pleasure of the board. I believe that’s how it works now, correct? Nebraska has an elected Board of Regents over the University of Nebraska. The legendary former Cornhuskers head football coach, Tom Osborne, was a member of the Board of Regents. He ran into some trouble and the state’s unicameral Legislature voted to impeach him. In Nebraska, since there isn’t an upper legislative body to try an impeachment; the case went to trial before the state Supreme Court. I’m not sure what the outcome was of that case, because shortly after that Osborne was elected to Congress, where he served for a couple of terms. He’s now the University of Nebraska’s athletic director in Lincoln.

  • camsaure

    It should be elected, Just imagine the cronyism if dullrumple were to appoint someone. Cronyism is what is causing problems in the first place. The “good ol boy network” is not working. If they are going to spend our, the taxpayers money, they need to be accountable to us the taxpayers.

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