Hennen's Notebook: Higher Ed, Planned Parenthood And Water Wars


I interviewed NDSU President Dean Bresciani, UND President Robert Kelley and NDUS Chancellor Ham Shirvani this week. My top takeaway is amazement at the near “kumbya” they are all singing on budget issues. Governor Dalrymple has proposed a budget very near what the universities sought. What a difference 2 years makes, and a boatload of money. However, the university leadership is also quick to claim that the funds come with significant strings. Mainly to educate more students sooner.

The one threat to the current calm, is a growing buzz sifting through the capitol halls being fed by some NDUS staff floating stories about controversies involving the Chancellor in his previous higher ed posts. They have been shopping a link to Wikipedia that lists some controversies in his previous positions. Should we applaud Ham for shaking up the status quo? Or should we dig deeper to learn more about their beefs? This growing dust up is one to watch. The most valid criticism that I’ve heard from loyal NDSU and UND faithful is that all 11 Presidents are getting less respect and autonomy. If true, that is dangerous ground for Ham. While most university presidents always have detractors, generally the strongest school supporters, community leaders, donors and faculty will support “their” President over the Chancellor. I’ve heard that Shirvani is being especially tough on Bresciani. Some foes claim it’s pay-back time, since the NDSU boss was on the chancellor search-committee but ranked a different candidate higher than Shirvani. However, it’s hard not to like Shirvani. He’s a dynamic figure. One long time legislator joked, asking: “Have you heard that Ham and Skarpohl are dating”? If the new chancellor has won over Representative Bob Skarpol, a tenacious critic of higher-ed spending and accountability, that is no small feat. Stay tuned.

Common Sense Club kudos go to NDSU President Dean Bresciani for nipping the growing firestorm over the NDSU partnership with Planned Parenthood. The move by two professors was rife with stupidity. I don’t care if the partnership would have provided for handing out free apple pie. If they pay for the apple pie with blood money, funded by the biggest line item in their budget….abortions, the tax-payers of North Dakota and many NDSU alum would understandably be outraged. Bresciani wisely said: “Whether technically or not, in my evaluation, it’s not respecting the intent of our Legislature,” he said. “And that’s close enough to me. We’re not looking for loopholes to work around our Legislature; we work in respect of our Legislature.” He deserves credit for the decision. Fargo Republican Representative Bette Grande helped by asking the tough questions and Janne Myrdal of North Dakota’s Concerned Women for America was first to sound the alarm over the airwaves and Tom Frier of the North Dakota Family Alliance mobilized his members to weigh in. It was a victory for grassroots action and common sense.

Common Sense Cackles to NDSU Faculty Senate President Thomas Stone Carlson. Is this guy clueless? He should be applauding Bresciani for saving NDSU from a disaster that would have done significant harm to the far greater priority of educating NDSU students. I love the “open letter” routine too. It screams of a publicity seeker. Has he heard of a private meeting to express concerns? These faculty often forget who pay their salaries. Us! He writes in his “open letter”: “…we believe that your decision to err on the side of a few legislators, who are known for their anti-Planned Parenthood agendas, represents a concession of academic freedom, arguably the most singular tenet of the academy and the most deterministic for the long-term success of any institution of higher education”. He seems to be horribly naive to the political process. If you totally disregard the important fact that the state rejected these grant dollars and seek them anyway, you obviously are going to hear from legislators who control the purse strings, and who will obviously hear from alumni aka voters. And he took some pot-shots at them directly in his letter…and our show too: “We are aware that you have received significant pressure from legislators (Betty Grande and Jim Kasper in particular) who have political agendas that oppose the work of Planned Parenthood. The announcement of your decision to freeze this funding on a conservative talk show and the quick response of several conservative groups thanking legislators for this important victory against Planned Parenthood, makes it difficult to see your decision as anything other than bowing to political pressure.” Memo to Mr. Stone-Carlson: A) What part of the law don’t you understand? B) If you plan to lampoon legislators, you might want to at least spell their name correctly. It’s Bette!! C) The President didn’t choose to “announce” this decision on my show, rather he simply answered my questions on this and many other topics in a 30 minute interview.

You’ve heard the famous line…”whiskey is for drinking, but water is for fighting” right? My prediction for this legislative session is water just may end up being the biggest battle of all. The turf fights launched in full force this week.

Will you watch the President’s inauguration Monday? I’m opting out. It’s the first one I’ll miss watching since 1976. I can’t bear to hear him take an “oath of office” that he so obviously doesn’t intend to uphold.

We started a new feature on the radio today. “Founders Friday” an educational effort to awaken Americans featuring folks like Brian Vanyo, a North Dakota native and a Iraq and Afghanistan veteran. His new book is a blueprint for America’s last hope: “The American Ideology-Taking Back Our Country with the Philosophy of our Founding Fathers”. Check out his insightful column “The oath of office, making it meaningful again” on his website www.BrianVanyo.com