On the ballot this November will be a measure to amend North Dakota’s constitution to change the way the university system is governed.
Currently the system is nominally governed by a board of part-time appointees (though some might argue that, in truth, the university presidents are running the show and that’s a big part of the problem). The measure would replace those part-time appointees with a three-member commission of full-time appointees nominated and confirmed using the same process.
The result would be a stronger board of higher education and, one would hope, better governance of the university system as a whole.
But apologists for the universities have been using the idea that this sort of change in governance could cost the universities their accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. The amendment could be “potentially devastating,” Democrat Rep. Corey Mock said during floor debate in the House over the legislation. “We may lose accreditation of all 11 institutions,” he said (video at the link).
The Higher Learning Commission itself seems to be actively politicking against the measure. Despite the finalized language of the amendment being freely available, the commission has refused to say whether or not it would impact accreditation (I’ve contacted them several times myself), choosing instead to make vague statements of concern about the measure.
In a letter sent to North Dakota Legislative Council in January, HLC President Sylvia Manning said the measure “raises questions about whether … the institutions would be in compliance with the Commission’s requirements on governance.”
So, at the request of state Senator Tim Flakoll, a Republican from Fargo, Legislative Council looked into whether or not any university has ever lost accreditation for this sort of a change in governance structure.
“Pursuant to your request…our office researched whether any state has lost higher education accreditation due to a change in governance structure,” Brady Larson of Legislative Council wrote to Flakoll in an email forwarded to me with Flakoll’s permission. “We were 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. They were unaware of any state that has lost higher education accreditation due to a change in governance structure.”
It is unfortunate that the Higher Learning Commission has decided to play coy with their stance on this measure, rather than giving North Dakota voters a definitive answer on the impact of the measure. But I think it’s safe to say that, short of the HLC condemning the amendment by saying definitively that it will cost accreditation, there is no way the amendment will cost accreditation.