Accreditation Worries Are A Red Herring In Measure 3 Debate


At the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce’s policy summit yesterday there was a debate over Measure 3.

That’s the constitutional amendment which would dissolve the existing State Board of Higher Education and replace with a full-time, three-member commission.

There was a heated debate about the measure between SBHE President Kirsten Diederich, Chancellor Larry Skogen, university system Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen on the anti-Measure 3 side, and Senator David Hogue and House Majority Leader Al Carlson on the pro side.

As expected, the university system folks trotted out the accreditation canard as their primary argument against the change as Nick Smith reported in the Bismarck Tribune:

NDUS Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen said the Higher Learning Commission has questioned whether or not accreditation of the state’s colleges and universities could be at risk with passage of Measure 3.

“Is it worth the risk?” Sagsveen said.

Sagsveen said accreditation loss or any action by the HLC could negatively impact enrollment and result in the loss of millions in funding.

Also, Mike Nowtazki from the Fargo Forum:

Sagsveen, the system’s chief of staff, said based on his discussions with the accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, he questions whether it’s worth the risk to scrap the eight-member board for a three-member commission. HLC President Sylvia Manning wrote in a letter to the North Dakota Legislative Council in January that she believes the proposed structure “raises questions about whether … the institutions would be in compliance with the Commission’s requirements on governance.”

“We don’t know what the unintended consequences of this are, whether it’s accreditation or something else,” Sagsveen said.

Diederich noted that North Dakota voters approved the current governance structure in 1938 to put a stop to political meddling in higher education, and she suggested a paid commission would be less autonomous.

The idea that the status quo protects the universities from politics is patently ridiculous. Higher education is fraught with politics, particularly internal politics. And what’s wrong with that? In a democracy, politics are how we govern in the public sector.

But the real issue here is accreditation. The university folks are going to try and scare voters away from Measure 3 by claiming that the universities will lose accreditation. But if that were true, why doesn’t the Higher Learning Commission just tell us that?

It’s not like Measure 3 is some nebulous idea. It’s very specific language that was passed by the Legislature a year and a half ago. There’s no reason why the HLC couldn’t tell us, today, whether or not this new governance structure would be acceptable to them.

They’re not telling us, because it serves the political purposes of the university system better for the HLC’s position to be ambiguous.

Because it’s impossible for these people to be honest and forthcoming, I guess.

Frankly, the university people need to put up or shut up. Either they definitively demonstrate that Measure 3 will impact accreditation at the universities, or they take that argument off the table.