Higher Ed Board President Kirsten Diederich Pretty Much Lied To Legislators


Back in April I wrote that lawmakers were going to be reviewing a deal struck between the North Dakota University System and Sanford Health Care to take over a nursing college in Bismarck. The deal was controversial, with North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani finalizing the deal before the State Board of Higher Education even reviewed it and telling board members that there was no reason to include legislators in the transaction despite it creating millions in funding obligations in the future.

“I think it probably should happen, but as we bring a new college into our system it involves public dollars. Should we bring our legislature in to make a determination on this?” asked board member Kathleen Neset at a March meeting of the SBHE.

“I don’t believe we go to the legislature asking for a special accommodation for this,” Bresciani shot back (video here).

Did I mention that University System Chancellor Larry Skogen, State Board of Higher Education Member Don Morton and NDSU President Dean Bresciani are all board members for Sanford?

But I digress.

“We have a school that continually talks about being underfunded, continually wants to raise tuition above what we would consider the norm, and now says they want to go a million dollars in debt for this school and the board says ‘no problem,’” Rep. Bob Martinson, a Republican from Bismarck, told me in April. “Then NDSU came to our meeting [of the Higher Education Funding Committee] and said they need more money for research. They said they want to bail out a multi-million dollar health care company when they claim they’re underfunded,” said Martinson. “How can this stuff happen time after time?”

Well the legislature’s review happened yesterday, and university system leadership pretty much lied to lawmakers, claiming that the deal doesn’t represent any additional cost to taxpayers:

Diederich said the deal won’t cost the University System more money, with Sanford putting about $1.3 million into the school over the next three years.

The problem with that statement, of course, is that the Sanford Nursing College is going to be a part of the North Dakota University System for more than three years. After that, it’s going to cost taxpayers about $5 million per year. And you don’t have to take my word on that. That’s the proposal NDSU put in front of the SBHE (see page 25 of the March 27th agenda for the SBHE). Starting in year four, about 21 percent of the nursing college’s funding would have to be legislative appropriations. The current estimate for that is about $5 million per year.

For Diederich – who was just re-appointed to another term on the SBHE by Governor Jack Dalrymple, something some lawmakers are threatening to vote down – to tell lawmakers that the college won’t cost the university system money is ridiculous.

Plus, as Rep. Mark Dosch (also a Bismarck Republican) pointed out, adding the nursing school students to the university system will require additional appropriations under the new higher education funding model:

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, pointed out that with the higher education funding model put in place during the last legislative session, more students will mean a need for more money, as schools are paid partially based on each credit hour completed by students.

“There’s a need for nursing students, there’s no doubt about that, but when you come out to the public and say, ‘This isn’t going to cost us anything more, we’re not going to ask for any more money,’ that’s not true because taking this over and adding 80 students … it’s going to cost the taxpayers more,” Dosch said.

Just another example of the arrogant university system leadership abusing the public’s trust. And they get away with it, because our political leaders let them.