Board Of Higher Ed Members Make The Case For Ending The Board Of Higher Ed

grant shaft

There are a number of critics of higher education here in North Dakota (myself included) who feel that the State Board of Higher Education is no longer capable of governing the states $1.2 billion university system. There are a growing number of people who think that the independence of the university system ought to be ended, and the system itself brought under the control of elected officials in one way or another.

The recent departure of two of the board’s members – citing stress, workload and criticism – is evidence that this reform is needed. According to SBHE President Grant Shaft, the on-going stress and criticism may make it difficult to fill the board’s positions:

“When we go out of the state, people ask us, ‘How do you do it, and how do you do it so well?’ But in North Dakota, the general view is we have a system that’s out of control, not functioning as it should.”

Shaft said he fears it could be “increasingly difficult to get qualified board members” in the future because of the workload, controversies and stress.

“We all spend a considerable amount of time away from family and jobs,” he said. “I’m not whining or looking for a pat on the back. We all asked for the job. But we all get a little disillusioned” by what gets the public’s attention.

If there are people outside of North Dakota who think our university system is working well, they must not be paying close attention to what is actually going on in the state. Graduation rates are atrocious, the tuition and fee increases are almost extortionist and the entire system seems to be generally run not so much for the students but rather for the greater glory of the system itself and those running it.

The optics of the president of the state’s largest university – NDSU’s Dean Bresciani – flying around the state in a private, university-owned airplane while living in one of the most lavish homes of the state (also owned by the university) and crying about how his university is chronically underfunded are atrocious. And yet, nobody in our higher ed system seems to care.

The university system has been mismanaged for years. The attitude that has permeated the university system’s governance is one of an assembly line, where there are to be as many students as possible packed into schools. They’ve taken a quantity-over-quality approach, and now they’re seeing the repercussions. The debacle at Dickinson State University – fake students and phony degrees – is just a symptom of a larger ill within the system.

When you add these problems with corrupt administrators – people like President Shaft and outgoing Chancellor Bill Goetz – who consistently seek to cover up the system’s problems and lie to the legislature, you begin to see a portrait of an administration that must be dismantled by reformers intent on restoring it to one that serves the students rather than the egos of the bureaucrats in charge of i.

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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  • Roy_Bean

    Rob writes for a living and I don’t but this illustrates the point I have been trying (poorly) to make on measure 2.  First we have to address how and where we need to spend the money and then we have to address where we get the money that we feel it is necessary to spend. 

    It’s like we have a herd of cows and we can’t afford the hay to feed them so we just buy less hay and assume that the cows will all lose weight.  I think they will just trample the fence and feed somewhere else.  I think we need to cut the size of the herd to a level we can afford first and then figure out what’s the best way to feed them. 

    • Rob

      We’ll never cut the size of the heard unless we cut the amount of hay.

  • two_amber_lamps

    There is nothing benevolent about benevolent dictators….

  • RCND

    ” Shaft said he fears it could be “increasingly difficult to get qualified board members” in the future because of the workload, controversies and stress.”

    Actually the situation should improve when Shaft leaves along with Goetz. Maybe Grant should do that sooner than later.

  • VocalYokel

    The motto for the SBHE…

    ‘ Love dem noe dem gi dem aksalen’

    (Promise them anything then give them the Shaft)

  • Guest

    Rob, let me just sum up your article…1. Higher Education is bad.  Just use this as the title for the next 150 or so anti-higher ed articles you decide to run in the next month.  I think we all get it…you hate college.

    • opinionated

      No Rob and the good people of North Dakota hate having their money misused by a bunch of unelected people who think they should never be told no, have an insatiable appetite for other’s money, and who detest having to be questioned about anything. I think after we repeal the good people’s property tax monies we need to go after the Higher Ed Board…. He questions wasteful spending and you turn it into “Rob hates college”.. Nice

      • Guest

        I don’t even care about the Higher Ed Board…I used to really like this blog, but now every time it’s all about how horrible colleges in North Dakota are…I mean, just look at the front page over the last three months.  I bet at least 30% of the stories he wrote are all about how much the colleges in North Dakota suck…all I’m saying is, I think most of us get it…Rob hates colleges, can we move on to more important issues?

        • Camsaure

          I hope Rob keeps holding their feet to the fire until some true effort is made to clean up this mess, some others hope it will all just go away so they can continue business as usual.

          • Guest

            I hope Rob keeps holding their feet to the fire…”

            Don’t worry about that one…yawn.

          • Broadway Joe

            Guest..Are you a Dickinson State Grad??? if anyone from SBHE was paying attention this may have been stopped…

        • Rob

          I think higher ed, which is a $1.2 billion branch of our state government, is a pretty important topic. I think you’re in the minority who disagrees.

          • $8194357


        • opinionated

          we have discussed it alot but it needs to be discussed… people are paying big money to have their kids educated and these colleges are providing a good value for the money they are spending

      • $8194357

        Sounds like you just described the personality traits of elitist liberals, huh…

  • Lynn Bergman

    An elected “Commissioner of Higher Education”, along with a professional “Chancellor” who could be fired at the drop of a hat without questions by the Commissioner is my solution. The current board has no accountability to the people of North Dakota, only to the elite education oligarchy.

    The term of the Commissioner should be six years (same as DPI) and the initial Chancellor should be the most “taxpayer oriented” of the current list of college presidents. Pay should be enough to insure the Chancellor can speak the language of the university system and there should be no recourse to being fired. Screw up and you’re out the door. We need competence, not guaranteed tenure. When the Commissioner and chancellor enter the room, the Presidents should know WHO is in charge!!!!!!!!!!! It’s been the other way around for far too long.

  • $8194357

    Education and indoctrination czars…