Facts Are Inconvenient For University System's Measure 3 Spin

Over the weekend Forum Communications reporter Anna Burleson had an in-depth look at Measure 3, which will be on the November ballot.

For the uninitiated, Measure 3 is a constitutional amendment reforming the way the North Dakota University System is governed. It would, among other changes, replace the existing part-time Board of Higher Education with a full-time, 3-member commission.

University system officials and their sycophants have claimed that Measure 3 could put accreditation for the state’s institutions at risk. And, indeed, the Higher Learning Commission has released some scary-sounding statements about the measure, though they were wrapped around this admission: “the team has not identified any provision [of Measure 3] that, on its face, violates current HLC accreditation standards.”

So is the risk to accreditation real? The legislators who are backing Measure 3 have done some research, and they can find no evidence that any institution of higher education ever in history has lost its accreditation due to a change in governance (emphasis mine):

Murray Sagsveen, the North Dakota University System’s chief of staff and ethics officer, said the current board is not legally supposed to take sides and can only convey “factual information” when asked, but most of the board’s comments have revolved around concern for losing accreditation.

This comes after the Higher Learning Commission released a report on Sept. 3 saying “While the team has not identified any provision of Measure 3 that, on its face, violates current HLC accreditation standards or assumed practices, the team is concerned that there are many details related to the implementation of the measure that, if not handled properly, could place the system’s accreditation status at risk.”

But in response to an inquiry from Flakoll, Assistant Legislative Budget Analyst and Auditor Brady Larson sent an email writing he was “unable to find any instances of accreditation being lost due to governance structure changes.”

“We also contacted representatives of the National Conference of State Legislatures regarding this question,” Larson wrote. “They were unaware of any state that has lost higher education accreditation due to a change in governance structure.”

Kind of makes it seem like all this bluster about accreditation is so much smoke blown by a bunch of bureaucrats who don’t want to be held accountable.

The other big complaint from opponents of Measure 3 is that it doesn’t include a student representative on the new commission. The existing State Board of Higher Education includes a student member, the commission created by Measure 3 does not.

Again, university officials and others have claimed that this is a major blow to students, but what do the students themselves say? Tanner Franklin, the head of the student government at the University of North Dakota, says students he’s spoken to are fine with it:

UND Student Senate President Tanner Franklin said representation isn’t a huge issue for students he has spoken with because the voting student member of the SBHE rarely acts as the swing vote for the group.

[Senator Tim] Flakoll said the measure’s ambiguity means that students could potentially be even more involved depending on the enacting legislation.

I doubt these facts will do much to dampen what will be a noisy campaign against Measure 3 in the coming weeks (even though the university system is technically not supposed to take a position), but they remain facts.

Measure 3 is solid reform for a university system that desperately needs it.

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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