Dickinson State University Attempting To Hide Survey Data From Public

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The results of a new campus quality survey of faculty at the beleaguered Dickinson State University show that, despite efforts by North Dakota University System officials to spin it, the problems there are far from over.

“From the previous survey in 2010, the percentage of individuals who reported they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their employment at DSU dropped from 70 percent to 56 percent,” reported the Dickinson Press earlier this week, “the lowest combined percentage since the bi-annual surveys began in 2002.”

And things may actually be worse. Despite making full disclosures to the public of previous campus quality surveys, Dickinson State University is now busy working with their lawyers to limit public disclosure of this most recent survey to only a version edited by the university:

“I have not seen it,” [DSU President D.C.]Coston said of the report. “It’s been floating around several places. We’ve been advised by our legal counsel to wait until they have time to review it and to see what’s appropriate to release under the open records law. At times, there have been different interpretations of what’s in (the Century Code) and we’re waiting for full guidance from our legal counsel.” …

Although previous versions of the CQS obtained by The Press, including the 2010 report, were received in full, the 2012 version was delivered with faculty, administration and department names left blank in the comments section.

DSU spokesperson Marie Moe said the university is withholding certain aspects of the “non-aggregate” data in Section 5 — which contains the comments portion of the survey — of the report due to legal concerns. Moe also indicated there is more than one version of the report.

North Dakota Newspaper Association legal counsel Jack McDonald said the Century Code states that records held by public entities are public records unless there is a state law that provides otherwise. The Press has placed an open records request for the complete survey.

“No provision is listed under the open records law to protect what DSU officials indicated were ‘non-aggregate’ data,” McDonald said. “Under state law, a request for records denial must provide legal authority for the denial.”

Keep in mind that the North Dakota University System, under former Chancellor Bill Goetz, bullied KFYR Television out of Bismarck to quit digging into the original enrollment scandal. This attempt by DSU officials to clamp down on the release of a campus quality survey is just the latest chapter in the North Dakota’s lengthy history of using legal wrangling and intimidation to avoid transparency and accountability.

It’s shameful, and keep in mind that this is happening in the context of the university system asking legislators for a big budget increase that would, in part, pay for a large increase in accountants and auditors in the university system office. This request is being justified by proponents as a way to increase accountability in the university system and avoid more embarrassing scandals.

But all those new accountants and auditors would be internal to the university system, and report to the same university system bosses that have proven themselves something less than honest in their dealings with the state’s elected officials and the public.

Do we really think we’re going to solve the university system’s problems with corruption and abuse of taxpayer dollars by giving university system officials more flunkies and bigger budgets?

“The state’s public higher education system has 17,500 employees, including 4,000 faculty members,” writes the Bismarck Tribune in an editorial today. “The idea that the chancellor needs to hire 30 more employees to monitor the existing administrators, faculty members and staffs strains belief.”

The North Dakota University System needs more external scrutiny, not more internal bloat. That the university system works so hard to avoid external scrutiny, with this shameful exercise in legal maneuvering at DSU serving as the latest example, is proof of the truth of that statement.

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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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