Yesterday the North Dakota state Senate considered, and approved, three appointments to the State Board of Higher Education by Governor Jack Dalrymple. That three nominees were being considered all at one time is, in and of itself, remarkable. It’s the result multiple members of the SBHE leaving their terms on the board early in the wake of several scandals which have rocked the university system, not the least of which was the diploma mill scandal at Dickinson State University.
So it was fitting that Senator Joe Miller (R-Park River) would stand up when the question of the appointment of Kathleen Neset came to the floor and suggest that maybe the Senate exercise a little bit of oversight for these appointments before just rubber stamping them. Unfortunately, Miller’s call for more scrutiny went unheeded as Senator Jerry Klein (R-Fessenden) responded by saying that committee members kind of sort of asked some questions but really just wanted to approve these people and move on.
The other two appointees, Don Morton and Kari Reichert, went through without any debate. All three got unanimous approval.
You really have to wonder what the point is of requiring confirmation of these appointees by the state Senate if the Senate is just going to pay lip service to the process.
If our university system ever needed more scrutiny and oversight from elected leaders, the time is now. Costs for students and taxpayers are out of control. Academic outcomes are lackluster. Graduation rates are far too low, and stagnant. One of the largest government frauds ever perpetrated in the State of North Dakota happened at Dickinson State University during the interim between legislative sessions, and time after time we see more evidence of university system officials taking a cavalier and wasteful attitude toward state tax dollars.
What’s more, the university system is in the middle of a civil war between the university presidents who don’t want to be governed by any central authority and the State Board of Higher Education which is trying in vain to implement that governance.
These are the issues Senator Miller no doubt wanted addressed. But instead we got a rubber stamp.
I’ve written often that the problem with the university system is the way it’s governed. The university system is given almost total autonomy by the state constitution. This means that elected officials such as legislators, and the governor, have very few leverage points to use when it comes to governing institutions that will, in the coming biennium, eat up nearly $1 billion worth of state tax dollars. But that independence not only means that the university system lacks sufficient accountability to the taxpayers, it also means our elected leaders get to punt on higher education problems.
The independence means they don’t have to take responsibility. And for the most part they don’t, as the video above shows.