As I write this Tom Meredith, a consultant higher by the State Board of Higher Education, is warning board members that the defeat of Measure 3 earlier this month was not an endorsement from voters for their job performance.
The Legislature seems to agree. Indeed, in just the few weeks since Measure 3 failed the university system has found itself embroiled in controversy over the firing of two of its top accountability officers and the finances at the Dickinson State University Foundation.
Earlier this year Governor Jack Dalrymple made some appointments to North Dakota’s troubled State Board of Higher Education. Among those appointments was a re-appointment of SBHE President Kirsten Diederich. At the time Senator Ray Holmberg, a Republican from Grand Forks who chaired the powerful Legislative Management committee during the interim, refused to comment on whether or not Diederich’s appointment would be confirmed by the state Senate.
Now other lawmakers are joining the chorus of doubt about Diederich’s confirmation.
“It definitely won’t be a rubber stamp,” one member of the state Senate told me.
Of course, I’ve heard these sort of bold words before from lawmakers. It’s one thing for them to bluster in private. It’s quite another to get a Republican majority to spike an appointee from a Republican governor in a very public way.
But in terms of trying to get the state’s university system back on track, it would send a powerful message. For one thing, Diederich’s term at the head of the SBHE has been a miserable one. She’s simply not fit to lead, and Dalrymple’s re-appointment of her calls his judgment into question.
For another, spiking Diederich’s appointment would force the governor to get some skin in the game on higher education.
One of the major problems with the governance structure for higher education in North Dakota is that it makes the system independent of accountability to someone who is elected of the people. The Governor may appoint members of the SBHE, but they do not serve at his pleasure. He cannot fire them. This has created a situation wherein the governor can essentially wash his hands of higher education problems.
That’s not good. The governor can, and should, be speaking up about the chaos in North Dakota’s system. But he isn’t. Unless his nominee for lead the SBHE gets spiked.
Then he might actually have to acknowledge that there’s a problem, and the problem needs fixing.