The Difference Between Being A Higher Education Apologist And Being A Hack

dean bresciani

In light of a state auditor’s report issued last week, which uncovered some extremely serious issues with the handling of student fees at North Dakota’s two largest universities, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the editorial positions of the state’s two largest newspapers.

It’s the difference between being an apologist for the university system, which might be forgiven, and being an out-and-out hack.

For the Grand Forks Herald, opinion editor Tom Dennis acknowledges that the audit revealed some real problems, but uses that as an excuse to back new higher ed Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s call for a doubling of his staff for oversight purposes.

We can argue about whether or not bloating an already thoroughly bloated university system payroll, and adding more layers of bureaucracy, will do anything to make a currently unaccountable and irresponsible university system more accountable and responsible. We can also argue whether or not the university system needs more internal oversight, given how willing university officials have worked to deceive elected officials trying to provide oversight in the past (see: the Dickinson State University fiasco, among other issues), as opposed to external oversight. But at least Dennis and his publication, though entirely in the tank for the university system, are willing to admit that there is some level of a problem.

Not so for Fargo Forum opinion editor Jack Zaleski, who dismisses the audit as a “distraction” from what should really be the state’s goal: Growing an already $1.2 billion, 11-campus university system (which serves a state with just 670,000 people) even larger.

Zaleski carries on as though the State Auditor, an independent official elected to provide accountability to all corners of the state government, and the legislature are part of some sort of an anti-higher education conspiracy.

Because it can’t just be that higher education in North Dakota has real problems, and these elected officials are attempting to do their jobs.

The North Dakota University System is not serving the state well. They are not being good stewards of taxpayer resources, and there are some real questions about whether or not students, on the whole, are getting value for what they’re paying for degrees.

That breech of the public’s trust is compounded by a media outlet in the Fargo Forum which not only gives scant coverage to the problems in the university system, but uses its editorial columns to attack critics.

Last year, when we here at SAB broke the news about NDSU’s use and abuse of a private airplane, the Forum attacked us in an editorial. But just weeks ago NDSU announced that they’re selling the plane after a thorough review by the legislature revealed that our criticism of the use of the plane was spot-on.

We were right. The Forum was wrong. Just as they almost always are when it comes to higher education.

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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