Many critics of higher education, including this one, believe that one of the fundamental problems with North Dakota’s university system is that the system is ungovernable. University presidents – with powerful political constituencies that include alumni, local leaders and usually their hometown media – have far more sway than the part-time board of appointees who are supposed to be governing them.
When I interviewed state Senator David Hogue, a Republican from Minot and a sponsor of Measure 3 on the November ballot which would replace the current board with three full-time commissioners, on the radio earlier this week he listed unruly university presidents as one of the justifications for the reform.
And if you needed any evidence that this is true, consider that the current members of the State Board of Higher Education voted to create a “roles and responsibilities” committee to define what the role of the board and university presidents are in governing the university system.
Who has a majority on that committee? Why, the university presidents of course.
Here are the members of the committee, which last met in February:
- SBHE President Kirsten Diederich
- SBHE Member Don Morton
- NDSU President Dean Bresciani
- UND President Robert Kelley
- VCSU President Steve Shirley
- NDSCS President John Richman
- Chancellor and former BSC President Larry Skogen
Just to illustrate how ungovernable the university system is, consider this passage from a Fargo Forum story about the Higher Learning Commission’s visit to the state, which has SBHE Duaine Espegard pointing out how the revolving door at the chancellor’s office:
Espegard also said he has served on the board for seven years and there have been five different chancellors, “two of them run out” and the rest interim chancellors.
After years of turmoil, is the SBHE in the process of abdicating its responsibility to govern the university system to the university presidents?
It seems that way, and it ought to concern North Dakotans.