The Lamest Argument You’ve Ever Heard For North Dakota’s Constitutionally Protected Universities

Dakota College at Bottineau

One of the peculiarities of North Dakota’s system of universities is the fact that eight of the eleven campuses, and their locations, are mandated in the state constitution. Which means that no matter how poorly these universities might perform, no matter how few students actually attend them, they must exist per the law.

On a side note, the state would have been in a real pickle if the diploma mill scandal at Dickinson State University had cost that school its accreditation. Its existence is required by law, but without accreditation it couldn’t function. But I digress.

It seems that just about every legislative session we see a bill to take the schools out of the state constitution. It wouldn’t close the schools, it would simply give the state the option of closing them. This year’s bill is HCR3008, introduced by Rep. Mark Dosch, and it was debated in committee today.

What caught my eye was testimony from Senator David O’Connell, who is from Lansford and has Dakota College at Bottineau in his district (enrollment: 480). He argued that if we take some of these schools out of the state constitution they might be closed (audio).

Rep. Dosch had a great rebuttal, asking why we’d want to keep open any school that has as its only justification the fact that it’s named in the state constitution (audio)?

It’s been more than a century since North Dakota’s constitution was written. The higher education industry, and our society’s higher education needs, have changed radically since then. Why in the world should we keep open a bunch of schools that only exist because they’re required by law? Let’s change the law, and give ourselves some flexibility in determining what institutions may or may not be necessary to meet higher education needs going forward.

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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  • Matthew Hawkins

    How can a bill take a university out of the constitution? Aren’t there procedures for amending the constitution?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      There are two procedures in ND. Citizens can initiate a ballot measure to amend the constitution, or the legislature can pass an amendment which must then be approved on the ballot.

      • DelawareBeachHouse

        Right. It’s not a bill, it’s a House Constitutional Resolution, H.C.R.

  • RCND

    There is no good and logical reason to keep these names in the Constitution.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well there’s a logical reason. The cities where the colleges are like the influx of commerce. But that’s not a very good reason.

      • borborygmi

        yep who likes commerce in their city. Lousy reasoning. sarc if you didn’t know better. I can’t believe you wrote that.

        • RCND

          It’s not a reason to keep the names in the constitution though

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          The schools are supposed to serve the students, or have you lost sight of that?

  • Lianne

    100 years ago when travel was not what it is today, much was horse and buggy out here on the plains; colleges spread across the state provided better access for an education. With today’s costs and with transportation is it is today, it is foolish to maintain 11 higer education entities. It is often said that without some of these institutions their specific town would wither and die. I do not believe that was the orginal intent of the writers of the Constitution. Rob seems to be the only one in any of the medias that keeps this discussion alive. Without him, this discussion would wither and die. It is one that needs to be kept alive.

    • whowon

      I agree Lianne, hope many in the legislature read his blog, we don’t get the information from any of our so called media.

      • Lianne

        I do know that my representatives read this blog, I also know they read e-mails sent to them. I saw one take a phone call today during the session. They need to be reminded of this issue from many voters across the state.
        Remember how they responded to the voters on the Fighting Sioux bill?

      • DelawareBeachHouse

        Forum News Services did cover the proposed constitutional amendment here, but I found the story incomprehensible. http://www.thedickinsonpress.com/event/article/id/65707/
        Ed Schafer used to argue that removing the names and missions would create needed flexibility, not to close, but to find other purposes for some of the campuses. It’s within the realm of possibility that some private school, or business, would be willing to buy Mayville or Bottineau. It would be nice to consider options like that on their merits.

        • Roy_Bean

          If you ever drive south from Jamestown on US 281, check out Trinity Bible College in Ellendale. Formerly UND-Ellendale.

          • DelawareBeachHouse

            I’ve been by a couple of times. Thing is, it took a fire that destroyed much of the campus to get the Legislature to remove it from the Constitution. But see, it did find another use! http://www.prairieroads.org/sni/index.htm

    • Guest Observer

      You are correct!! Here is a message to ND’s Legislative members who may look at this. Pull your head out of your rectum and do something meaningful for us taxpayers in terms of tax relief and quit producing more laws that protect us from ourselves. Rant over.

  • John_Wayne_American

    Back in state hood days, they passed around things like tokens on a game board, Bismark got the capitol, Fargo and GF got the land grant schools, Jamestown got the state hospital and so on.. now 100 years later the demographics of the state has changed, the travel habits has changed, How many folks from Bottineau drive to Minot just to shop??/

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      You’re right. The universities, state hospital, etc, were all payments on votes for the constitution.

  • Captjohn

    I firmly hope that HCR 3008 passes both houses and is signed by the Governor. The legislature passed and Gov. Schafer signed the same Resolution in the 90’s as mentioned in a reply to this blog. Sen. Maj. Ldr. Nelson, myself and Gov. Schafer campaigned for its passage. We were opposed by the newspapers across the state and most of the faculties of the institutions. The Board of Higher Education refused to take a stand.
    Any reasonable person has to come to the conclusion that if the state wants true reform of higher education HCR 3008 is a valid starting point. I will not be surprised if Forum publications and the faculties go into protective mode again.
    In my book I describe how the institutions came to be. Those same geographical and parochial interests will try and trump logic once again. Hopefully the voters will see through the specious arguments usef to defeat the measure a decade ago.

    • DelawareBeachHouse

      Not 100% sure, but don’t think constitutional amendments need to be signed by the governor, since they go to the ballot.

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        Article IV, Section 16 makes no mention of the governor in the legislature initiating an amendment:

        “Any amendment to this constitution may be proposed in either house of the legislative assembly, and if agreed to upon a roll call by a majority of the members elected to each house, must be submitted to the electors and if a majority of the votes cast thereon are in the affirmative, the amendment is a part of this constitution.”

        • DelawareBeachHouse

          Thanks. Yes, it would defeat the purpose of allowing the people to function as the legislative body if a governor could prevent the amendment.

  • Captjohn

    Sorry about the error on the governors signature. Regardless Governor Schafer campaigned for the amendment to the constitution.

  • John_Wayne_American

    Has anyone ever read the ND Constitution regarding higher ed? Who is our unconstitutional required commissioner of higher Ed is that the Chancellor why don’t we call him commissioner??

    Article VIII Educaton
    http://www.legis.nd.gov/files/constitution/ArticleVIIIEducation.pdf?20130216001959

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