How You Should Probably Vote: Yes On Measure 3

This is the third in my on-going series about how I’m voting on North Dakota’s ballot measures.

Measure 3 would amend North Dakota’s constitution to replace the existing part-time, seven-member State Board of Higher Education with a full-time, three-member commission. The idea being that the part-timers are having a difficult time governing full-time university presidents. And the proof seems to be in the pudding.

These days, and after university presidents have run off two system chancellors in less than a decade, it seems the lunatics are running the asylum in the university system.

Currently Measure 3 isn’t polling well, though, which is what happens with the Legislature puts an amendment like this on the ballot and then does very little to make an affirmative case for it.

I think the Legislators were counting on a seemingly never-ending stream of scandal and controversy in the university system to make their case for them. And as hard as the incompetents in charge of the universities have tried to oblige, they also have the benefit of an organized opposition (no doubt drawing resources from the university’s network of alumni and cronies who profit from the status quo).

To be clear, Measure 3 is no silver bullet for what ails the university system. We likely wouldn’t have so many problems if former Governor John Hoeven, and current Governor Jack Dalrymple, had been appointing better people to the SBHE. And North Dakota’s problems with run-away spending on higher education, skyrocketing tuition costs, and stagnating academic outcomes aren’t exactly unique. These are national problems stemming from ill-advised public policy and a generally unhealthy American attitude toward higher education.

It seems most Americans believe there is no problem in higher education that can’t be solved by throwing more money at it. And certainly most Americans believe that all kids should go to college, no matter what.

Still, Measure 3 is solid reform. It would be a shock to the system of the status quo. If nothing else, at least it would rid us of the people current on the SBHE.

The university bureaucrats tell us that Measure 3 is a threat to accreditation. But there’s no evidence that this sort of change in governance has every lost a university, anywhere, their accreditation. If Dickinson State University issuing hundreds of phony diplomas didn’t lose that institution their accreditation, certainly a good-faith move toward strong leadership for the universities shouldn’t cost us accreditation either.

The real risk for Measure 3, though, is in it failing. The university system bureaucrats would no doubt see that as a sign that North Dakotans are just fine with how things are. If Measure 3 fails, I don’t think that will be why. I think it will be because voters were taken in by the accreditation fear mongering.

But it would be better if Measure 3 were the law. I say vote yes, to put the universities back on track toward serving students and taxpayers instead of themselves.

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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