There are a number of critics of higher education here in North Dakota (myself included) who feel that the State Board of Higher Education is no longer capable of governing the states $1.2 billion university system. There are a growing number of people who think that the independence of the university system ought to be ended, and the system itself brought under the control of elected officials in one way or another.
The recent departure of two of the board’s members – citing stress, workload and criticism – is evidence that this reform is needed. According to SBHE President Grant Shaft, the on-going stress and criticism may make it difficult to fill the board’s positions:
“When we go out of the state, people ask us, ‘How do you do it, and how do you do it so well?’ But in North Dakota, the general view is we have a system that’s out of control, not functioning as it should.”
Shaft said he fears it could be “increasingly difficult to get qualified board members” in the future because of the workload, controversies and stress.
“We all spend a considerable amount of time away from family and jobs,” he said. “I’m not whining or looking for a pat on the back. We all asked for the job. But we all get a little disillusioned” by what gets the public’s attention.
If there are people outside of North Dakota who think our university system is working well, they must not be paying close attention to what is actually going on in the state. Graduation rates are atrocious, the tuition and fee increases are almost extortionist and the entire system seems to be generally run not so much for the students but rather for the greater glory of the system itself and those running it.
The optics of the president of the state’s largest university – NDSU’s Dean Bresciani – flying around the state in a private, university-owned airplane while living in one of the most lavish homes of the state (also owned by the university) and crying about how his university is chronically underfunded are atrocious. And yet, nobody in our higher ed system seems to care.
The university system has been mismanaged for years. The attitude that has permeated the university system’s governance is one of an assembly line, where there are to be as many students as possible packed into schools. They’ve taken a quantity-over-quality approach, and now they’re seeing the repercussions. The debacle at Dickinson State University – fake students and phony degrees – is just a symptom of a larger ill within the system.
When you add these problems with corrupt administrators – people like President Shaft and outgoing Chancellor Bill Goetz – who consistently seek to cover up the system’s problems and lie to the legislature, you begin to see a portrait of an administration that must be dismantled by reformers intent on restoring it to one that serves the students rather than the egos of the bureaucrats in charge of i.