Last week on June 27 the State Board of Higher Education voted 5-3 to allow North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman to pursue financial support for a further expansion of his campus into Fargo.
Why that Wahpeton-based institution needs to enlarge its presence Fargo where we already have North Dakota State University is beyond me. It’s a controversial proposal with a lot of opposition from lawmakers. In fact, that opposition gave the board pause.
My colleague Patrick Springer reports that board members “expressed reservations about whether it complied with legislative building directives.”
“I am fully supportive of the project,” Kathy Neset, the immediate past chair of the board, said at the meeting. “I am not prepared to vote on it yet,” she added.
Neset had much sharper reservations behind the scenes. In a scalding email to North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott she expressed deep concerns at the way the approval for the project happened. She noted that it wasn’t intended to be an action item when it was put on the agenda.
She also ripped into Richman for being condescending and disrespectful to board members:
Hagerott responded to Neset’s concerns about an informational agenda item being turned into an action item by citing the legal opinion of Assistant Attorney General Nick Vaughn. Neset, in her email above, acknowledges that the move was likely legal but clearly feels it wasn’t an entirely forthcoming approach:
You can read the memo Hagerott references, which explains the legal justification for the agenda switcheroo, right here.
I’ll let you readers decide whether the agenda shenanigans were legal. That’s sort of beside the point.
Keep in mind that all of this is happening not so long after there was a big kerfuffle in Bismarck, during the legislative session, over the way North Dakota State University’s purchase of Sanford’s nursing school in Bismarck went down. NDSU President Dean Bresciani pushed for the deal, assuring board members (and Neset, specifically, I’d point out, video here) that the lawmakers didn’t need to be looped in. But when it became clear that deal Bresciani worked out was going to result in a cost lawmakers would have to fund he got called to the carpet and the deal had to be reworked.
Neset seems to want to avoid a similar outcome with the NDSCS expansion into Fargo. Which seems prudent.
Unfortunately, it seems we yet again have a stubborn campus president who sees little need to build consensus before bulling ahead.
That rarely ends well for the North Dakota University System.