Ralph Kingsbury Column: Give The Universities Some Credit

dean bresciani

OK, I am back on my high horse again. After all, what can you expect from an expert? That’s what I think anyhow. Of course writing like that I must be talking about higher education again.

And here is something guaranteed to put me in the room with the small sized crowd. The college administrations and those in charge of administering the schools are right. I don’t mean the office in Bismarck. That place has been one disaster after another ever since the Roundtable became the non-functioning guiding light (to put it kindly).

The UND REAC scandal is one of the latest messes the Board and/or the Board office has created. The chancellor said he didn’t know of the requirements. He had just started. All the more reason to find out. If nothing else ask the assistant attorney general whose office is in the higher ed complex at the capital. Think it’s the seventeenth floor in case he doesn’t know.

The particular situation that put me back on my horse is the fact that the students were not informed that the proposed tuition increase was going to be on the agenda of a scheduled meeting. That notification to the students has been board policy for years. It is the Board office’s responsibility. Is that person ever going to get a final notice? You know, “Next time you don’t tell the students  you’re fired!”

That being said, after nearly fifteen years of the Roundtable, of all the discussions, the criticism leveled against one president after another, two bought off chancellors that cost the state millions of dollars, of all this total lack of direction it is only because the state has been fortunate to have had some very good presidents that the North Dakota higher education system has had the improvements it has.

The quality of education, the majors available to students all have greatly increased. In North Dakota schools are at the top of state supported opportunities across the nation. Thanks again Harold Hamm for your $10 million dollar contribution to the establishment of the petroleum engineering degree. To you to Bruce Gjovig for establishing real programs in Entrepreneurship and Innovation that are recognized as leading programs across the nation. What John Odegard did for North Dakota makes it one of the leading economic growth machines in the state. Ever! None of that would have happened except for the leadership at individual schools.

The transformation of NDSU from a good but not particularly outstanding 8000 student school into a leading 14000 student agricultural and technical school didn’t just happen. It didn’t happen because of the Board of Higher Education, nor did it happen because of the Board office. It happened because of a president at the school.

No increase in educational opportunities happened because of anyone or any kind of leadership in the state legislature. Whether at NDSU, or UND, or other schools including a little out of the way school like Mayville, or an all but unheard of tech school like Wahpeton State College. It happened because of leadership at the schools.  Not only because of the presidents. Often the presidents told their program directors, or entire departments to ask themselves where they were and where they should be. But in these cases success came about because of the presidents.

Those attempts at changes have not been without problems and just plain failures. Those who say what happened at Dickinson was criminal may be right, or so I think, too. But that didn’t make everything done there or at other schools wrong.

Many of the problems written about are real. Problems must be solved, and wrongs must be righted,  but I know this for a fact: North Dakota’s higher education system is as good as any public education system in the country. We do not have as many opportunities as some states, but we are not as rich as some states. We maybe should close some programs and add some others. In fact the schools are always doing that.

This is what I know though, we are where we are because of the college presidents and their faculty. No one else.