Something Is Terribly Wrong if the Only Thing Keeping a University Open Is the State Constitution

Hailey Vold, a senior at Mayville State, walks to class recently past Old Main. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Today the Grand Forks Herald takes a victory lap over the defeat by the state Senate of HCR3016.

That was an amendment proposed by state Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) which would have removed the names and purposes of public universities from the state constitution. Eight of North Dakota’s eleven state schools are named in the constitution, and many see that as an impediment to shaping our university system to meet modern challenges.

Our university system is already overbuilt for a state our size. Now that we’re entering an age where brick-and-mortar campuses are less important, that overbuild is going to become more problematic.

But forget all that, the Herald tells us today. The paper says the people don’t want this change, but they’re hanging their hat on a statewide vote which happened more than 20 years ago when Bill Clinton was still in the White House.

C’mon.

They also say that the constitutional mandate for these schools exists because the state’s founders wanted to protect them. Which I don’t doubt is true. Given the number of institutions – from schools to hospitals and other facilities – mandated in our state constitution its clear the founders were giving one another favors. Politicians with clout got a state facility in their district to drive jobs and commerce.

They were protecting the political distribution of these facilities. Is that worth protecting today?

Today it seems the only thing these schools are being protected from is accountability. It doesn’t matter if, say, Mayville State is performing well. It doesn’t matter if the school’s mission as defined in the state constitution is still relevant in the here and now. The mandate exists, and so the school must exist.

That’s nuts. Yet, sadly, it will remain the status quo for a while yet thanks to the defeat of Becker’s amendment.

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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