I am not hopeful that Measure 3 will get the approval of a majority of voters next week. After putting the constitutional amendment on the ballot the lawmakers who voted for it did very little to make an affirmative argument for it to voters. Meanwhile, the opponents of the measure have spent almost $100,000 (most of it coming from a $90,000 contribution from Valley City developer George Gaulker) opposing it.
Usually, with ballot meaures, if you want them to pass you have to give voters a reason to vote for them. Otherwise, their default position on measures is “no.”
But if there is a silver lining to Measure 3 being on the ballot it’s that it may have finally cracked through the shell of complacency many in the media have had when it comes to the very real, very dire problems in North Dakota’s university system.
For instance, today the Bismarck Tribune endorsed Measure 3, citing a (by no means comprehensive) list of the university system’s myriad problems:
It’s unfortunate the situation has reached the point where the board needs to be replaced. The members are highly successful professionals from around the state who offer their time. They should be able to create a well-oiled machine, but the machine keeps breaking down.
Managing the higher education system takes a lot of work and a lot of it falls on the chancellor. Some have argued the chancellor, running the day-to-to operations, lacks the power to succeed.
The university presidents, especially at North Dakota State University, haven’t been shy about using their clout. When push comes to shove, the chancellors over the years have lost.
When the board brought in Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, the board instructed him to make changes. He’s gone after a year and an expensive buyout. And there is plenty of blame to go around for Shirvani’s departure.
The Legislature also has been frustrated by the workings of the higher education system.
Along with violations of open records and meetings laws, the board has drawn criticism for purchases of a nursing college in Bismarck by NDSU and a research building by the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Two sessions ago, NDSU ignored the Legislature’s guidelines on tuition and the board didn’t take action.
I’ve never felt that Measure 3 was a “silver bullet” that could fix what ails higher education. For that, we not just a better class of leaders but also a shift in parochial attitudes many have about the local university and a sea change away from the idea that a four-year degree is an automatic meal ticket to a better sort of life no matter its cost.
In fact, I supported a different sort of reform when this issue was being debated during the 2013 legislative session. I think the state would be better served if the university system were directly accountable to an official elected of the people.
But, at the every least, even if Measure 3 fails we’re at least having this debate. Some have begun to recognize that the universities stopped prioritizing the service of students long ago, instead choosing to serve their own expansionist agendas.
Maybe we can dispense with the idea of universities as little more than host bodies for sports programs, crony capitalism, and an ever-expanding legion of administrative bureaucrats.
I will say this: If Measure 3 does fail, it’s time to start holding Governor Dalrymple (and whoever follows him in office) respondible for the decisions made by his appointees. The buck for the wasteful spending, the corruption, and the poor academic outcomes has to stop somewhere.