Question Of The Week: Will North Dakota Get Higher Ed Reform?

goetz influence media pic

Today we introduce a new feature on SAB… Question of the Week. Weekly we will pose a question on a current event, and allow you readers to take the discussion from there with your posts. We are quite confident you won’t be bashful in offering up your thoughts.

During the interim legislative session, there was a lot of focus on our state’s troubled Higher Education system. The audits of Dickinson State University, the University of North Dakota, and North Dakota State University were highlights (or, more to the point… lowlights). In addition, NDSU attempted to duck scrutiny of their aircraft, which we have taken to call “Air Bison”. These issues ran in parallel with the tumultuous end of past Chancellor William Goetz’s time at the helm of the ND University System (NDUS), and the controversial hiring of Dr. Hamid Shirvani to take over responsibilities as Chancellor.

A key theme during the interim session was the need to consider a new governance system for our University System. House Majority Leader Al Carlson was in the lead on this effort, and had drafted a framework for a constitutional amendment which would, if passed, let the voters decide if the current governance system needed to be changed in the State Constitution away from the State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) having governance of the system; to one with a Governor-appointed Director of Higher Education and Higher Education Council.

You can view Carlson’s proposal from March 2012 here:

Higher Ed Constitutional Amendment by LegitSlater

This proposal attracted a lot of attention back in March, partly because it would allow for some remove-ability of the Director of Higher Education by the Governor for cause. A chief concern of the current governance system is the fact that SBHE members are one-way appointments by the Governor, with removal next to impossible. This has created, in the opinions of many, a governance system ripe with accountability concerns which has directly or indirectly led to the problems at several campuses in the NDUS.

While it was unclear if the Higher Education Committee members could be removed for cause, it was apparent their role would be advisory in nature to the Director, versus having true governance responsibilities themselves.

Since March discussion on this or any other proposed changes to Higher Ed governance has fallen deathly, and noticeably, silent. February 26th is the deadline for constitutional amendments to be introduced. So, with the above in mind, we pose our inaugural Question of the Week:

With conditions ripe to justify debate on changes to Higher Education governance in North Dakota, will we see a proposal from Carlson, or any other legislator in the 63rd Legislative Assembly, to put such changes before the electorate to decide on?



LegitSlater is a contributor who focuses on features primarily pertaining to state and local government as well as political parties, but has been known to dabble in other areas. LegitSlater has also been known to pinch hit for Rob when he is out and about in his worldly travels, or attending the occasional Yankees-Twins series. LegitSlater's numerous awards include the personal satisfaction received from informing the vast readership of SAB, spurring respectful debate, and hunting the trophy sacred cows which have been otherwise deemed off limits by the traditional media, elected officials, and the political parties.

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  • NDConservative2011

    So far the Governor as well as legislative leadership have not shown any great interest in reforming the higher education system. There has been lots of posturing and rhetoric, but nothing introduced seems to be on the horizon which will allow for a whoesale change which is so badly needed.
    So, to answer your question, NO, I do not believe we will see anything in the form of reform from the Governor or from anyone in the legislature. The sacred cow will be protected, and the outlandish spending and lack of control will continue on. It’s a real shame no one has the guts to introduce some sort of reform.
    Where are the conservatives such as Rep. Dan Ruby and Rep. Jeff Delzer who would normally step up to the plate. As a conservative, I challenge them to step forward.

    • RCND

      Add Carlson to that list. He all but promised change. Where is it???

      • Rob

        That disappoints me. I had expect Carlson to bring it up again, and the case for it is even stronger now than last session.

    • Rob

      So far the Governor as well as legislative leadership have not shown any great interest in reforming the higher education system.

      What tipped you off? The fact that after two years of fraud and deception by the higher ed system, they’re still getting a huge 38% increase in spending and pretty much everything they want?

  • RCND

    The clock is ticking, and when Carlson tried this last session he put in the proposed amendment late. This, along with rolling all education under one department, I think killed it.

    The voters deserve an opportunity to decide if the status quo is acceptable, or if change is needed. In order to make that decision, the debate needs to start soon in the legislature so we can see and participate in what that change may be. Bottom line is, while the deadline may be towards the end of February, something needs to get in the hopper soon

    But to the question at hand, I fear the answer is no, although I hope to be wrong. Simply put, I suspect some deals were made with this to not pose anything this session. That, to me, is why it has been so quiet after so much argument earlier last year. Factors which have weighed on this could possibly be a new President of the SBHE removing Shaft as a very polarizing character. The same applies to Shirvani replacing Goetz.

    But, the mechanism from which the problems were able to fester is still in place. That needs to still be debated

  • Kevin Flanagan

    Is possible to reform a sacred cow?

    • RCND

      Not if you don’t try

  • ND Observer

    Tough question because few have confidence in the leadership of the arrogant chancellor or the blundering board of higher ed, and few want to make higher ed more political by placing more control under the management of an inept legislature or am already overwhelmed Governr. We have a leadership crisis, a blooming bureaucracy and few good solutions. Reform for reform sake is not a good option, but we sure want better leadership than we have at the board, chancellor and presidents level.

    • RCND

      I don’t think we will ever find a 100% perfect solution to higher ed governance, short of privatizing them and letting them operate under their own Board of Directors without tax dollars. But, we can also count on that pretty much never happening.

      The current system isn’t working though, simply because the SBHE members basically can’t be replaced. That has created a corporate culture of disregard for accountability and an almost imperial organization, with each school being their own kingdom. Thus, absolute power has corrupted absolutely, and that aspect of current can’t be continued. There are simply no effective checks and balances here with higher ed.

      The supposed de-politicization of higher ed via the SBHE has given us this imperial organization we call the ND University System. I also don’t think it is realistic to ever expect any part of government, to include higher ed, to be immune from politics. We may have to accept some politicization of an already politicized higher ed in order to reign them back into a reasonable system of checks and balances, and restore accountability again.

  • Harlan Goerger

    I would hope this or some other form of oversight reform for Higher Ed. How can Higher Ed continue to come to the water hole, demand more every time and yet show no improvement in their outcomes? I understand the 4 year degree graduates is in the 25% range? No business or other government entity would be allowed to perform with such a dismal record.
    In the mean time, I would love to see Higher Ed get absolutely no increase in funding and be forced to reorganize their operations.
    One other point should be added to the amendment proposal. I believe there are several collage locations specified in the ND Constitution, these should be removed and a generic heading of collage or higher ed location be inserted. Because of this, several locations can not be closed down or consolidated!

  • Big Bully

    When it becomes necessary to shoot sacred cows, one must commence in one’s own pasture.

  • ec99

    Will never happen happen. Change is anathema in North Dakota.