I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn that the usual suspects are circling the wagons around embattled North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman.
A group of powerful business leaders, not to mention the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce and a Republican state Senator, have sent letters backing Richman to the State Board of Higher Education.
This is ahead of a committee meeting which will review a stinging state audit of the school.
An audit which found that a serious breach in conflict of interest policies, and an apparent effort by Richman’s administration to cover it up.
The letter writers dismiss these audit findings out of hand.
Richman is popular with the Fargo business crowd because he wants to expand the NDSCS campus presence in that community, so much so he literally put a Fargo city commissioner on his staff, though his obsessive focus on this goal has left many faculty and rank-and-file employees on campus cold. Those I’ve spoken to feel resources have been shifted away from the academic mission of the school in favor of this Fargo project.
This is illustrative of a larger problem in higher education, both in North Dakota and the nation.
At a time when higher education desperately needs to focus serving students better, leaders like Richman are busy trying to please off-campus commercial interests.
Off-campus commercial interests who will, when needed, rally to his cause.
Not that their influence is really needed. Don Morton, the current head of the State Board of Higher Education, got rapped by the editorial board of the Wahpeton Daily News for not even pretending to be objective when it comes to accusations of misdeeds by university presidents. “Really, I think what’s going to happen is that a vote of no confidence is going to become a badge of courage,” Morton said, referring to criticism from faculty or students aimed at presidents.
These people don’t get it. Or, more accurately, perhaps they do get it but just don’t care.
The North Dakota State College of Science exists to serve students. Not the Chamber of Commerce.