State Board of Higher Education President Terry Hjelmstad seem to be in pushback mode. Last week he was going after students upset with how some of the state’s universities are approaching tuition hikes. This weekend Hjelmstad was “setting the record straight” on the university system’s many, many open meeting and open records law violations.
The object of Hjelmstad’s ire was a column by state Rep. Randy Boehning:
Boehning specifically alleged that the State Board of Higher Education repeatedly has violated open meeting laws and has “showed no remorse as its members continued to ignore the law.” Further, he suggests the State Board of Higher Education is a “rogue board.”
“He is wrong,” Hjelmstad wrote. “Here are the facts.”
Except, Hjelmstad kind of doesn’t make good with the facts. To read his column, you’d think the university system was guilty of only two recent transparency infractions when in fact there have been 18 involving the SBHE and its constituent universities since 2010. And while Hjelmstad tries to trivialize two open meeting violations in the last year, they were actually quite serious.
“The attorney general found that the board violated the open meetings law when it requested, but did not require, the institution presidents, the chancellor and the chancellor’s staff to temporarily leave the room so that the consultant could speak frankly with the board,” he writes referring to a complaint I filed over July 2014 meeting where the public was, indeed, asked to leave the room.
But the behind-the-scenes actions of the university system put lie to Hjelmstad’s suggestion that the violation was no big deal.
Kristen Franzen, at one time the university system’s top legal compliance office, was fired in part because she supposedly “leaked” the fact that the public was being sent from the room to me. Here’s Franzen writing in a letter to Chancellor Larry Skogen following her notice of termination:
For what it’s worth, I can confirm that Franzen did not contact me about the July meeting, but that’s beside the point.
Hjelmstad wants us to believe that open meetings violation was no big deal. And yet, according to Franzen, she was fired at least in part because university officials believed she tipped me off about it. If the university system didn’t feel they were doing anything wrong, why were they so upset about the (inaccurate) idea that Franzen told me about it?
The fundamental problem with the university system is that it is a rat’s nest of entrenched, thin-skinned bureaucrats who live in a bubble where expanding their administrative empires, and not serving students and the state, is the priority.
At times it becomes difficult to tell if people on the board like Hjelmstad, fed a steady diet of baloney from university system administrators, actually believe what they’re selling the public or if they’re willfully lying.