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.