New Higher Ed Board President Kicks Off Tenure With A Jab At The Legislature


“New chair of ND higher education board has easy-going style,” reads the headline from the Associated Press over an article about new State Board of Higher Education President Terry Hjelmstad.

Hjelmstad took over in that position after his predecessor, Kirsten Diederich, resigned from the board rather than face a tough re-appointment hearing from lawmakers upset with the myriad problems in the university system.

I can only imagine the headline is sarcasm¬†given this jab at lawmakers, which doesn’t seem so easy-going to me:

Hjelmstad and others believe Diederich took the fall for a board that has been at odds with legislators for a decade over rising tuition costs and the feeling that administrators at the colleges and university system have not been held accountable for their actions. That feeling was compounded by several violations of the state’s open meeting laws.

Hjelmstad said it’s time for both sides to get on the same page.

“We kept hearing from legislators that the perception of the public was not very good of the state board,” Hjelmstad said. “But you know what? The public’s perception of the Legislature isn’t very good either. We need to work together to improve that.”

In other words, Hjelmstad doesn’t acknowledge the problems in the university system – which run the gamut from diploma mill fraud to IT incompetence to a lengthy history of open records/meetings violations – and instead blames the legislature.

They say the first step to problem solving is admitting there is a problem. It would be nice if we could ever get the North Dakota University System to that first step.

And I don’t agree that the public’s perception of the Legislature isn’t very good. I’ll have some polling in that regard later this week, but suffice it to say that the lawmakers who serve in Bismarck are elected of the people, and they have to keep getting elected in order to hold their positions.

How do you suppose it would go if the state’s university presidents and/or higher ed board members had to get elected? I suspect it would probably be a bloodbath at the ballot box.

Because here’s the fundamental problem with higher education in North Dakota: Taxpayers have roughly doubled appropriations to higher education over the last few bienniums, yet tuition keeps climbing and academic outcomes don’t improve. Meanwhile, the administrative payroll at the universities have bloated and certain university presidents are living like pharaohs.

Maybe this all seems fine and dandy to those living inside the little bubble that is the North Dakota University System, but out here in the real world it’s clear that the universities are doing a poor job of serving the state.