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.