Former SBHE Member Attacks Student For Expressing Dissenting Opinion On Measure 3

Last month UND Student (and former President of the UND Student Government) Nick Creamer wrote a piece for SAB in support of Measure 3.

Measure 3, of course, is the constitutional measure that would eliminate the existing part-time State Board of Higher Education and replace it with a board of full-time appointees.

I had asked Creamer to write the piece because I had seen other students speaking out against Measure 3. I knew that Creamer supports the Measure, and given his status as a student leader in the state, I thought his views would be a pertinent rebuttal.

Flash forward to this weekend, former SBHE member Duaine Espegard attacked Creamer in a letter to the editor of the Grand Forks Herald suggesting that Creamer’s views on Measure 3 aren’t his own. “While reading a recent letter, I noticed that the writer, Nick Creamer, failed to disclose that he is an employee of North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson’s caucus,” wrote Espegard. “Given the fact of that employment, I strongly suspect that the letter reflects the views and direction of Carlson.”

This is an ironic comment given that leadership in our university system traditionally surrounds themselves with student leaders who are little more than sycophants. But whatever. Espegard isn’t concerned about honesty here so much as he just wants to discredit Creamer’s perfectly valid point of view (a point of view shared by another student leader from UND).

But Espegard’s ham-handed attempt to discredit Creamer wasn’t even the most humorous part of his letter. This was:

As Creamer points out, Measure 3 would replace the current board — a board that has the representation of North Dakota citizens, including a student member — with three full-time commissioners. What he fails to mention is that the proposal also replaces the chancellor, and that under the proposed initiative, those three political appointees who’d be managing the system would be doing so under the direction of the Legislature. …

Last but not least, Creamer tells us not to worry about the issue of accreditation of the North Dakota University System’s institutions. This reassuring claim is also brought forward by Carlson, but it has no basis. The Higher Learning Commission, which accredits the institutions, looks very closely at the independence of a university system’s governing board, insists that the board be insulated from political pressure and has expressed its concern about Measure 3. I believe this will be an issue if the measure is passed.

This is the argument apologists for the status quo in higher education will hang their hats on, but it makes no logical sense.

Espegard calls members of the three-member commission that Measure 3 would create “political appointees.” Yet, Espegard himself was a political appointee when he served on the SBHE. In fact, not one thing is changing about the way the members of the SBHE would be appointed under Measure 3. The measure would only shrink the board down to three full-time members.

And – contrary to what folks in the university system like to believe, which is that they’re a sort of government unto themselves – the university system already has to operate under the direction of the Legislature. The Legislature controls the appropriations. The Legislature makes the laws we all must live under. Given that these are state universities, it only makes sense that they operate in accordance to the policies put forward by the elected leaders of the state.

What the higher education industry derides as “politics” might more fairly be called democracy. The higher education industry would like to exempt themselves from that in every way except the bit where the taxpayers fork over to them lots and lots of money.

Unfortunately, Espegard is exactly the sort of higher education leader who as brought us to these dire straits with our universities. Thus, he’s not exactly the sort of person we ought to be listening to as we move forward with reforms.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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