Amendment Would Eliminate Board Of Higher Education And Elect A Commissioner Of Higher Education


Just this morning, as the dust settled around Senator Tony Grindberg’s attempt to fire Chancellor Hamid Shirvani with a budget amendment, an amendment was introduced by Rep. Rick Becker to shut down the Board of Higher Education and put the administration of the North Dakota University System under a statewide elected official. Said official would be advised by a board of nine people appointed by the governor.

The “higher education commissioner,” as the office is called in the amendment, would be empowered to hire and fire university presidents and perform all administrative duties necessary to run the universities. But here’s the thing, the higher education commissioner would be subject to statute.

That means the legislature is the boss. No more independent university system. No more university presidents thumbing their noses at our lawmakers, and the taxpayers, and generally doing what they please. If this amendment were to pass – and it would require votes in both the House and the Senate as well as a vote of the people – the university system would be under the administration of person with an electoral mandate from the people who would be bound by the constitution to follow the laws set by the state’s elected lawmakers.

The food fight over Chancellor Shirvani was a distraction. This is the reform higher education in North Dakota needs.

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Rob Port is the editor of 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.

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  • RCND

    Wow. I was getting worried we would not see a resolution on this. I can get behind this 100%

  • Mike

    This amendment also locks in all 11 institutions. If that’s in it on the ballot, I won’t support it. We don’t need 11 institutions.

    • RCND

      There is another amendment to pull them. One step at a time

    • Rob

      Those institutions are already locked in. This doesn’t change that.

      That’s a silly reason to vote against this. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

      • Mike

        Only 8 of 11 are currently locked in (BSC, LRSC, and WSC are not). I’m hoping it’s amended before it comes to a vote to keep the current 8 in place. That way, we can have the debate about what should be protected at a later time

  • exsanguine

    finally time to take down that fiefdom

  • Nelly

    I like the elected commissioner but the appointed board by the governor means the real authority rests in the governor and the commissioner will be a figurehead or at best potentially at war with the board should he or she want to remove a president or change the operation of the system. It is a recipe for disaster and certainly no better than we have. Either elect the board and have them appoint a chancellor or elect a chancellor/commissioner and forget the board.

    • Rob

      Actually, the appointed board really has no power at all. They’re advisers. They get no vote. I honestly don’t like that they were included as I think it’s symbolic and a waste of time, but I don’t think that rises to the level of this amendment deserving a no vote.

      • Nelly

        In re-reading I agree Rob.

    • Jonesy

      It states the board is to act in an advisory capacity. The Commissioner would have the power to hire and fire the campus presidents.

  • Jonesy

    Making the system subject to statute would be great. That way there isn’t the whole “4th branch of government” deal. Having a single elected person in charge isn’t as good of an idea in my opinion. About 1/6 of North Dakota’s population is in the Fargo area. Any idea which campus/area the candidates for the position will pander to the most??? In my opinion, having a board in control is a good governance structure and the problem is the members of the board. Those members are selected by the governor for political patronage and rubber stamp approved by the legislature.

    • camsaure

      Well then how about a commissioner and about 4 reps on a board, all elected from their region(and not just a region from each college, that needs to be split up so no one region has all the power)

  • Jonesy

    The term limits for a higher ed commissioner also seems dumb. The more continuity in the position the better (so long as the person is doing a good job).

    • Rob

      Meh, maybe. I’m not generally for term limits. I think that if voters really want a change, they’ll vote for it. That being said, I have such a low opinion of higher ed, a little mandated churn isn’t a bad thing.

  • Guest

    Yay! Even more hoops for the universities to jump through to get things done!

    • Rob

      The universities pretty much do whatever they want now.

      They are state institutions, they should be accountable to the taxpayers.

  • ec99

    If anyone really believes this will solve the real problems (relegation of education to nothingness, revenue and sports as priorities, elimination of admission standards to boost enrollment, bloated administrations, et al) forget. This is nothing more than a scheme to transfer power. ND will not commit to the real changes to make a real system of higher ed, where ed is goal.

  • Dakotacyr

    Will not pass the voters especially since theynwill semit as a way to close the smaller schools.

    • Rob

      No, the schools are mentioned in the amendment. Nobody is taking the schools out of the constitution.

      This is a way to make the schools accountable to the taxpayers.

  • SellTheSchools

    Sure, because the legislature can run universities efficiently. Greeeaaat…

    State universities were a great idea 100 years ago, to bring higher ed to the area before it made sense for the private sector to invest. Now that there are 11 institutions that were doing fine until the last few years, the State should keep UND and NDSU, possibly a few other high growth institutions if there are any, and cut off the rest from the government teat. Sell them into the private sector, don’t close them.

    DSU would be a great school if its officials weren’t wrapped and protected in red tape as public officials. I’m sure the others would thrive on their own, outside of the State.

  • Mike

    I think the best reform would be to keep the governing board above the chancellor/commissioner, but take away the independence from the legislature. I’m not fond of creating another elected statewide office. How many people take the time to get informed about the issues and candidates for auditor, treasurer, etc?

  • thetruth

    Port, I’m happy to see you throwing your weight behind this important bill. This may even turn out funnier than Measure 2!

  • 100realnd

    this how good systems work. with oversight not outsider contempt and egos

  • ec99

    I predicted on this site when Shirvani was hired that he would last 3 years. He was doomed from the beginning. He came believing the song and dance about changing the system, when in reality ND hates change the way North Korea hates individual freedom. Add to that he didn’t exhibit the hypocritical North Dakota nice: he said what he meant and everyone knew where he stood; something Nodakers are incapable of. His program for making a real multi-tier system which recognized 9 of the 11 schools were hopelessly sub-par, and the two big ones had prostituted themselves in the search of revenue above all else and had jettisoned education, ticked off the status quo-ers who would lose power, authority, and their laisez-faire attitude. But ND is a Berlin Wall to change, and this one will never be torn down.