Maybe The Criticisms Of North Dakota’s University System Aren’t Ideological

Responding over the weekend to criticism of North Dakota’s university system attracting thousands of students from all over the country with heavily-subsidized tuition, Grand Forks Herald opinion editor Tom Dennis wrote that the North Dakota Taxpayer’s Association (which picked up my criticism on the topic) should ‘take off its “government is evil’ blinders.”

The implication being that criticism of higher education in North Dakota is driven entirely by conservative ideology.

That’s a bit of a cop out, I think, and a convenient one too which allows Dennis to ignore the very real problems in the university system. I know that to some ideology is a dirty word – perhaps principle is anathema to the unprincipled – but this issue isn’t about ideology. Conservatives and liberals alike should be appalled.

For instance, what is ideological about seeing something incongruous in university presidents spending tens of thousands of dollars on private flights on taxpayer-funded planes for short trips to and from the legislature where those same presidents complain that their universities are underfunded?

What is ideological about wondering why the metrics we use for success in the university system are the number of students we cram into the schools, and what their economic impact is on the community, rather than what actual academic progress these students make and whether or not the degrees they get are worth what they paid (not to mention what the taxpayer has paid)?

What is ideological about wondering if huge growth in the taxpayer bill for the universities (not to mention massive tuition increases) to fund subsidies for out of state students who leave the state once their education is complete is a good deal for North Dakota?

What is ideological about seeing something wrong with university officials raking in lavish pay and benefits while working on glittering campuses while the taxpayers and the students pay an ever-higher bill for higher education?

I don’t believe that wanting good education, and efficient expenditure of tax dollars on programs that actually benefit the taxpayers, are ideological arguments. We can debate about the appropriate roles of government in society, but this isn’t about that. This is about accountability for government.

That’s supposed to be the job of media publications such as the Grand Forks Herald. Sadly, the Herald (and most of the rest of North Dakota’s media) seems to see its job as defending and rationalizing the excesses of North Dakota’s university system rather than questioning and challenging them. That’s a failure in their duty to the public.

Legendary Washington Post reporter David Broder (who sadly passed away in March) once said that “The only way a reporter should look at a politician is down.” Would that we had even one reporter in North Dakota with that hard-bitten attitude.

Rob Port

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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