North Dakota Needs To Put The State Board Of Higher Education On The Ballot

The Spirit Lake Sioux tribe will be trying to refer the recent repeal of the Fighting Sioux law by putting the question on the statewide ballot in June of 2012 or, short of that (because 13,000+ signatures is a lot to collect in 90 days) put the Sioux nickname in the state constitution with a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November of 2012.

Good on them. Both the wishes of the Sioux Indians, and the North Dakota people in general, have been ignored on the issue of late. It’s time for us to have our say. But while we’re doing that, we should put the State Board of Higher Education on the ballot too.

Not just because of their dishonest double-dealing on the Sioux nickname issue, but because the university system can no longer be trusted to govern themselves.

Certainly the legislature doesn’t hold the respect of the university system. At NDSU, President Dean Bresciani and the State Board of Higher Education thumbed their noses at legislative caps on tuition increases and hit students with an 8.8% hike. Bresciani and other university officials have consistently claimed that they’re underfunded, blaming the legislature for it, despite massive increases in state appropriations.

When the legislature attempted to look into NDSU’s use of a private airplane, the use of which by the university elite costs North Dakota taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, university officials tried to lie and claim the plane wasn’t actually owned by the university proper but rather the university’s foundation. Which was false.

And that wasn’t effort to mislead the legislature made by the university system this year. At Dickinson State University, where the president had to be fired for inflating enrollment numbers with fake students, the faculty was instructed by Chancellor Bill Goetz (with the knowledge of SBHE President Grant Shaft) not to disclose the university’s problems during the legislative session.

Because if the legislature, our elected governing body, had found out what was going on at DSU it might have impacted the higher ed budgets and other legislation they were considering, right? Oh, by the way, when an NBC News reporter named Brian Howell started questioning the Board of Higher Education on the DSU story they froze him out with SBHE President Grant Shaft telling him nobody in the university system would be talking to him any more.

And they must have kept their promise, because the story died and Howell doesn’t seem to be covering higher education issues for NBC affiliate KFYR any more.

How can the legislature exercise oversight of the university system when not only is the university system itself set up as a fourth branch of government, not accountable to any other branch of the government in any legal sense, but also when the university officials themselves don’t act in good faith in their governance?

The university system squanders our tax dollars, from the massively over-budget geothermal project at Minot State University to the massively over budget president’s mansion at NDSU.

If we had some actual leadership in this state, and not just a bunch of opportunists hoping to ride the state’s oil boom and resulting strong economy to near permanent incumbency, somebody would be calling out the university system. But nobody does, and as a result we taxpayers and, worse, our kids who are going to these universities are paying a heavy price.

Maybe it’s time for the taxpayers to take the matter into their own hands and reform the university’s leadership into something more accountable to the people.

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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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