The Biggest Threat To Accreditation Comes From The State Board Of Higher Education


Apologists for the North Dakota University system – including university system officials themselves and their sycophants among the state’s commentators and editorialists – have worked themselves into a high dudgeon over a report from the Higher Learning Commission claiming that Measure 3 is a threat to accreditation. Which, of course, isn’t accurate.

What the HLC said was that in Measure 3, “the team has not identified any provision that, on its face, violates current HLC accreditation standards.” What the HLC report (which you can read here) did say is that if Measure 3 passes the change in governance of the state’s universities will warrant review, which is reasonable, and that the way the measure is implemented has the potential to violate accreditation standards. Which, also, is reasonable.

At least when those two facts are cut from the HLC’s doom-and-gloom rhetoric.

Still, a lot of credit is being given to the way university system officials are choosing to interpret the HLC’s stance, and that’s unfortunate. Especially when we spend little time exploring why these people might wish to avoid reform. Few involved in the status quo of any branch of government are true advocates of reform. Most of them, since they are part of the status quo, prefer the status quo.

Why, then, should take as gospel the dire warnings of those who are most invested in squashing reform in the university system?

And what is truly putting accreditation at risk here in North Dakota? Is it the Legislature, which has put reform for the university system’s governance structure on the statewide ballot in the form of a constitutional measure, or the current governance structure that allowed one of the state’s 11 campuses to become a diploma mill? A governance structure that has allowed the university presidents to push out two chancellors within the last decade? A governance structure that has allowed the priorities of the universities to rank bloated enrollment and campus expansion over serving students and taxpayers?

Missing in the fight over Measure 3 and the supposed risks to accreditation is another of the Higher Learning Commission’s edicts: That any governance structure over a university system provide “effective” leadership.

Can anyone argue that the leadership of the North Dakota University System has been effective over the last decade?

Apparently the Fargo Forum can. “It’s early in the debate. Circumstances could change. But at this point, it seems the wisdom in “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” should be considered,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial earlier this week.

If it ain’t broke?

How many more phony diplomas does a North Dakota university need to issue before we admit that the governance structure is broken? How many more out-of-control, ego-driven university presidents do we need to hire? How many more open records violations?

Here’s a news flash: The status quo in the university system is, in fact, broken. Let’s not let those who broke it derail the fix.