University System Governance Isn't Some Parochial Pissing Match

State Board of Higher Education President Kirsten Diederich resigned rather than face a tough re-appointment review from state Senators who are generally not pleased with the university system’s performance of late. Now Governor Jack Dalrymple must choose a replacement, and the Grand Forks Herald is campaigning to ensure that replacement has ties to Grand Forks and/or the University of North Dakota.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”18″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”Rather than a unified system of institutions which serve the entire state of North Dakota, the universities behave as a loose confederacy of rivals.That might be ok if said rivalry were over who can best serve the students, but it really isn’t. It’s about which campus will get the most buildings. Which campus will get the most government research contracts. Which university can cram the most students onto campus.”[/mks_pullquote]

Which pretty much illustrates everything that’s wrong with higher education in North Dakota right now. Rather than a unified system of institutions which serve the entire state of North Dakota, the universities behave as a loose confederacy of rivals.

That might be ok if said rivalry were over who can best serve the students, but it really isn’t. It’s about which campus will get the most buildings. Which campus will get the most government research contracts. Which university can cram the most students onto campus.

What’s worse is that the communities around these institutions, up to and including the hometown media, play along. A university system founded to serve the academic needs of the state has morphed into a competition among universities to build bigger campuses, stuffed with more students, who will come to places like Fargo and Grand Forks and spend lots of money.

When you’re playing that game, the regional affiliations of the SBHE members suddenly becomes important. If we were focused on serving the students, who come from all over the state, it would be far less important.

I was happy when Diederich’s nomination was essentially killed by hostility from lawmakers. I felt it was a good step toward finally acknowledging some of the manifest problems in the university system, and the beginning of some accountability for those in charge. But now I fear as though this may devolve into a parochial pissing match between Grand Forks and Fargo interests.

That would be a shame. Those obsessing over regional balance on the SBHE have the wrong priorities.

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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