There Isn't A Thing Wrong With UND Interim President Ed Schafer Endorsing Doug Burgum

Ed Schafer takes a phone interview Friday morning on his first day at UND as interim president. Jesse Trelstad/ Forum News Service

Yesterday Ed Schafer – former Governor and current interim President of the University of North Dakota – made a video for the Doug Burgum campaign endorsing the Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Today the Fargo Forum ripped Schafer, calling his endorsement inappropriate because it broke an unwritten rule about university presidents steering clear of politics.

“Schafer didn’t break the law. He did not ignore policy, because there is no policy about political endorsements,” the Forum writes. “He did, however, violate a decades-old tradition that goes to the heart and structure of North Dakota’s semi-autonomous higher education system.”

It would certainly be inappropriate for Schafer, or any other university president, to even hint that their political positions represent the institution they head. But Schafer didn’t do that, so I see no problem at all with his endorsement.

I’ll admit that I don’t quite understand Schafer’s reasoning in endorsing Burgum. I’m afraid that the candidate’s appeal is rooted more in the indiscriminate anger a certain faction of Republicans feel toward “the establishment” this cycle than any thoughtful consideration of how he might actually govern if he wins. Burgum is like North Dakota’s version of Donald Trump.

Less a candidate being evaluated based on his policy positions and qualifications than an avatar for political bile. Poor criteria for choosing our state’s chief executive.

Ed Schafer is one of the best leaders our state has ever seen, and I have a lot of respect for his viewpoint, but I’m not sure why he’s falling for Burgum’s largely superficial appeal.

That said, there isn’t anything wrong with Schafer endorsing a candidate. In fact, I don’t really have a problem with university presidents involving themselves in politics. They have the same 1st amendment rights the rest of us have, and shouldn’t have to hide their political feelings because they took a job at a public university.

It would certainly be inappropriate for Schafer, or any other university president, to even hint that their political positions represent the institution they head. But Schafer didn’t do that, so I see no problem at all with his endorsement.

It certainly has caused a stir, though. Even before the Forum editorial I’d been getting buzz from politicos, lawmakers, and even higher education folks around the state uncomfortable with Schafer’s decision.

But I think those people are wrong.

Again, university presidents shouldn’t be allowed to use their public position to influence partisan politics, but Schafer didn’t do that. He is speaking as a former governor, and an elder statesman of the North Dakota Republican Party, and I for one am glad he spoke out.

The debate over the race between Burgum and Wayne Stenehjem is the better for it, I think.

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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