Last week Kevin Melicher, one of Governor Jack Dalrymple’s nominees to fill four vacancies on the State Board of Higher Education, got a hearing before a state Senate committee.
It didn’t go well.
“As many as 20 senators sat in in his hearing where he embarrassed himself by not having basic knowledge he could have picked up by reading the newspaper such as not even knowing about the problems at DSU after serving 7 months on the board,” one observer told me.
A lawmaker who was in the room for Melicher’s hearing, but not a member of the committee, used the word “surreal” to describe the proceedings. “It was like some random person wandered in and told the committee ‘I’m the nominee,'” my source said. “The average member of the public who has done nothing more than read your blog and newspapers probably knows more than this guy.”
Those sentiments were echoed in public comments by lawmakers who voted against Melchier’s appointment.
Senator Donald Schaible, a Republican from Mott, seemed taken aback by Melicher’s lack of knowledge of higher ed issues in his comments to the Fargo Forum, as did Grand Forks Democrat Connie Triplett.
Keep in mind, as you read this, that Melicher has already been serving on the SBHE for more than half a year:
“Some of this did not happen just recently,” Schaible said. “The (Dickinson State) foundation issue is pretty current, and the direction that the board and the staff has taken against legislation that is pending right now – those are all current issues, pressing issues. And he didn’t seem to have a grasp of that.”
Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, said Melicher also didn’t have a grasp on how the mend the previously troubled relationship between the chancellor and university presidents.
When committee members asked him about that, he merely said both answer to the board, Triplett said.
Schaible said he had “a whole list of concerns” regarding the board and was looking for someone “with a little more direction.”
For Melicher’s part, he was indignant that the Senators would are ask him about the university system’s past problems. I mean, he wasn’t even on the board back then you guys!
Melicher, a Fargo optometrist who has been on the board temporarily since June, said he had studied the issues closely and thought he presented them effectively at the hearing.
He was disappointed when committee members asked him about board controversies from before his time.
“They were bringing up things that I had absolutely no involvement in,” he said. “If anything, I was a little disappointed about that, but on the other hand, I tried to speak very confidently and very positively about where I see the university system moving and going.”
How in the world can Melicher have an opinion on where the university system is going when he’s out of touch with where it’s been?
The state Senate has already spiked one of Dalrymple’s nominees for the SBHE – former board President Kirsten Diederich withdrew her nomination last month rather than face a tough appointment process from lawmakers. Will they spike another?
It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain: It’s pretty clear that Governor Jack Dalrymple isn’t taking this process seriously. At a time when the university system is in desperate need of firm leadership to implement coherent policy and rein in out-of-control university presidents, Dalrymple is nominating clueless creampuffs. Perhaps by design.
Creampuffs are no doubt what politically-influential university presidents want on the board.
On a related note, here are some fun facts about another of Dalrymple’s potential nominees for the SBHE, Kristi Hall-Jiran. She is the Executive Director of CVIC, or the Community Violence Intervention Center.
And guess who is on the board of CVIC? In addition to Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, one Marcia Kelley, described on CVIC’s website as the “First Lady” of the University of North Dakota. Meaning she’s UND President Robert Kelley’s wife.
Because that’s not a conflict of interest at all.