In a meeting with the Fargo Forum editorial board, Governor Jack Dalrymple was asked about the request by the North Dakota University System to exempt evaluations of university presidents from open records requests. Rather unbelievably, given what it says about their leadership (or lack thereof), members of the State Board of Higher Education say they won’t do the evaluations unless all but the final product is kept from the public (the actual legislation they’ve filed is much broader than has been widely reported and would exempt all materials used in evaluations from records requests).
To Dalrymple’s credit, he expressed concern (if not outright opposition) to the proposal. “First this restriction, then that restriction. Pretty soon, you know, you could have a number of restrictions, and then you’ve lost something,” he said. “I think you got to be careful about loosening up our open records law, because it’s pretty precious.”
But Dalrymple went on to claim that the universities are performing just fine, and that it’s only the university system office that is the distraction:
The governor said it was another distraction that draws attention away from the state university system’s successes.
“We’re delivering more and more education, quality is good, places are doing a good job, and yet we have to constantly hear about the board office, like that’s higher ed,” Dalrymple said. “That’s what I find frustrating.”
First, I should note that if Dalrymple is frustrated with the university system office maybe he should speak up about it. After all, he appoints the members of the State Board of Higher Education. It is a little hard to take him seriously when he says he’s concerned about what’s going on in the system office when his administration is simultaneously twisting arms in the state Senate to make sure they don’t spike his re-appointment of Kirsten Diederich to the board.
Despite his role in appointing the board, Dalrymple has been little more than a spectator through one major scandal in the university system after another. He deserves criticism for that. He may not be able to directly govern the university system, but he has a hell of a bully pulpit he can speak out from.
As to the performance of the university system, they’re not doing great. Looking at the state’s four-year institutions (NDSU, UND, Mayville State, Minot State and Dickinson State), the university system ranks 37th in the nation in terms of graduation rate with just 49 percent of students obtaining their four-year degrees after six years. The universities rank 41st in first-year retention rates, but are more near the top (unfortunately) in cost per degreet where they come in at 15th highest in the nation.
The numbers, compared to public universities in other states, are ugly (though to be fair the state’s student loan default rate is the lowest in the nation, the lone bright spot):
Making this worse is the fact that North Dakota is leading the nation in higher education spending. As the chart below shows (source) no other state in the nation has come even close to the sort of increases in higher ed spending North Dakota taxpayers have footed the bill for.
What are North Dakota taxpayers getting for this money? Outside of administrative bloat, never-ending campus expansion, and university Presidents who live like pharaohs on the taxpayer’s dime?