Showdown Coming On Confirmation Of Higher Ed Board President: "If We Condone We Own"

One of the tasks the Legislature will take up this week as they convene their 2015 session is the confirmation of four of the eight members of the State Board of Higher Education, including board president Kirsten Diederich who was appointed by Governor Jack Dalrymple for a second term.

But those confirmations, Diederich’s in particular, may meet with some pushback in the Senate chamber which must approve the appointments.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”There is a showdown coming on Kristin Diederich between the Senate and the Governor,” my source tells me. “Senators now are using the phrase ‘if we condone, we own’ the problems under Diederich.  The Gov. is still loyal to her (he is too loyal to his friends and supporters),  but several influential Senators feel they cannot confirm her.”[/mks_pullquote]

Way back in April, shortly after Diederich was re-appointed by Dalrymple, long-time state Senator Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks) refused to comment on the likelihood that the appointment would be confirmed.

“It definitely won’t be a rubber stamp,” another member of the state Senate told me back in November of Diederich’s nomination.

It’s always hard to know how seriously to take this sort of bold but not-so-public talk, but a source in higher education seems to think that the hearings over Diederich’s nomination could be pretty brutal.

“There is a showdown coming on Kristin Diederich between the Senate and the Governor,” my source tells me. “Senators now are using the phrase ‘if we condone, we own’ the problems under Diederich.  The Gov. is still loyal to her (he is too loyal to his friends and supporters),  but several influential Senators feel they cannot confirm her.”

The university system has been plagued with scandal and corruption for years now, through multiple iterations of the SBHE. The problems in the university system existed long before Diederich was ever on the board, let alone serving as board president. But the Senate killing her appointment could put a shot across Governor Dalrymple’s bow, forcing him to acknowledge the problems in the university system in a meaningful way.

The way the North Dakota University System’s governance structure is defined in the state constitution, the governor is prohibited from any direct administrative oversight. Once he appoints the members of the SBHE he must be, by law, hands off.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t speak out. That doesn’t mean he can’t use the bully pulpit his office comes with to call for change and greater accountability. The Legislature has tried, but unfortunately cannot speak with one voice and often finds itself fractured by parochialism as lawmakers eschew reform in favor of protecting their home-turf institutions.

There is a leadership vacuum on higher education. Governor Dalrymple could fill that vacuum. Refusing confirmation to Diederich may force his hand in that regard.

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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