On Television: University System Needs To Show Improvement After Investments

On my weekly segment with Chris Berg on Valley News Live last night we talked about the recent report about the bloat in non-instructional staff in the North Dakota University System as well as the Attorney General’s office finding yet another violation of open records/open meeting laws by the same.

That would be the 19th open record/open meeting law violation for the NDUS since 2010.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]And as I mentioned during the segment, it’s not just that the university system budgets and tuition have grown so much. It’s that they’ve grown so much, yet there’s little evidence that for all that additional cost to students and taxpayers we have little improvement to show for it.[/mks_pullquote]

It seems like about half of what I do these days is cover the never-ending problems in the university system, but this week it has really started to feel like this stuff is sinking in. Even the Fargo Forum editorial board – which can usually be counted on for a blustery and intemperate knee-jerk defense in response to any criticism of the university system generally and Fargo-based North Dakota State in particular – had to agree that the bloat in non-instructional staff is a problem.

That’s a breakthrough of sorts, because the reason why the problems in the university system have festered for so long is that there’s little political will to address them.

The executive branch of our state government is constitutionally prohibited from interfering. Owing to an abuse of power of former Governor “Wild Bill” Langer, our law currently allows the governor to only appoint the members of the State Board of Higher Education after which the executive branch is generally expected to keep their mouths shut.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is addled by narrow-minded parochialism which has many (most?) lawmakers defining good higher education policy as bigger budgets for whatever institutions happen to be in their districts.

The university system, meanwhile, has exploited this vacuum in oversight and accountability which brings us to where we’re at today. A lightly populated state with no fewer than 11 public institutions, each of which aspires to be a sort of Harvard on the prairie.

I’ve been writing about these problems for years. I can say that it is gratifying to see people begin to at least admit that there are problems.

And as I mentioned during the segment, it’s not just that the university system budgets and tuition have grown so much. It’s that they’ve grown so much, yet there’s little evidence that for all that additional cost to students and taxpayers we have little improvement to show for it.

That’s the crux of the problem. We keep giving the universities more, and they keep churning out the same mediocre product.

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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