The Difference Between Being A Higher Education Apologist And Being A Hack

dean bresciani

In light of a state auditor’s report issued last week, which uncovered some extremely serious issues with the handling of student fees at North Dakota’s two largest universities, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the editorial positions of the state’s two largest newspapers.

It’s the difference between being an apologist for the university system, which might be forgiven, and being an out-and-out hack.

For the Grand Forks Herald, opinion editor Tom Dennis acknowledges that the audit revealed some real problems, but uses that as an excuse to back new higher ed Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s call for a doubling of his staff for oversight purposes.

We can argue about whether or not bloating an already thoroughly bloated university system payroll, and adding more layers of bureaucracy, will do anything to make a currently unaccountable and irresponsible university system more accountable and responsible. We can also argue whether or not the university system needs more internal oversight, given how willing university officials have worked to deceive elected officials trying to provide oversight in the past (see: the Dickinson State University fiasco, among other issues), as opposed to external oversight. But at least Dennis and his publication, though entirely in the tank for the university system, are willing to admit that there is some level of a problem.

Not so for Fargo Forum opinion editor Jack Zaleski, who dismisses the audit as a “distraction” from what should really be the state’s goal: Growing an already $1.2 billion, 11-campus university system (which serves a state with just 670,000 people) even larger.

Zaleski carries on as though the State Auditor, an independent official elected to provide accountability to all corners of the state government, and the legislature are part of some sort of an anti-higher education conspiracy.

Because it can’t just be that higher education in North Dakota has real problems, and these elected officials are attempting to do their jobs.

The North Dakota University System is not serving the state well. They are not being good stewards of taxpayer resources, and there are some real questions about whether or not students, on the whole, are getting value for what they’re paying for degrees.

That breech of the public’s trust is compounded by a media outlet in the Fargo Forum which not only gives scant coverage to the problems in the university system, but uses its editorial columns to attack critics.

Last year, when we here at SAB broke the news about NDSU’s use and abuse of a private airplane, the Forum attacked us in an editorial. But just weeks ago NDSU announced that they’re selling the plane after a thorough review by the legislature revealed that our criticism of the use of the plane was spot-on.

We were right. The Forum was wrong. Just as they almost always are when it comes to higher education.

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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  • Kevin Flanagan

    It’s just another sad example of the quid pro quo between state media and state education.

    • Zach

      Remind me, Kevin, what is the education system giving the media in return for this?

      • RCND

        Access and advertising

        • Dave

          What alternative would the education system have for access and advertising if not the “state media”? What is there altenrative if the “state media” doesn’t play ball? Minnesota media? Seems like the educational system doesn’t have that many options other than the “state media” for advertising and access. Is Chad Nodland and SAB lumped in there with “state media”? Where is the line drawn?

          • RCND

            The lame stream media shit bricks when the SBoHE threatened to cut off both in the wake of the DSU scandal. That is why they backed off the story

      • Kevin Flanagan

        The education cabal supplies plenty of column inches and show material to the media. This is today’s example:

  • sbark

    but hey………”we got the money”……..who said that again?

  • Roy_Bean

    The fact is that Imperial Cass makes big bucks off all those games that get played in the FargoBarn. The other fact is that without UND and NDSU neither town would have the arenas that they have. But don’t get too smug, with the west rising and the east falling I figure in 20 years some blog will be complaining about the Williston Herald and the Dickinson Press and the FargoBarn will be hosting rummage sales.

    • jimmypop

      uh, the east isn’t falling, but ok….. anyway, can we get all our money back that we’ve sent you for 40 years now?

      and when your oil wells close and you take half our money again, can we get a ‘thanks’ rather than bitterness?