Legislature considers vote to abolish higher ed boardNorth Dakota legislators will again consider a proposal to allow voters to decide whether to abolish the state Board of Higher Education.
BISMARCK — North Dakota legislators will again consider a proposal to allow voters to decide whether to abolish the state Board of Higher Education.
The Legislature’s interim Higher Education Committee received a summary Friday of a proposed constitutional amendment to create a Department of Higher Education.
It’s time for an open discussion looking at what the next 20 years of higher education will look like, said House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo, who submitted the proposal.
Carlson, who offered a similar idea during the last legislative session that was defeated, said this proposal does not include K-12 education.
Carlson proposes a governor-appointed director of higher education who would serve renewable three-year terms.
The director would need to have a doctoral degree, be familiar with higher education delivery and administration and be committed to meeting educational and workforce challenges.
There would also be an 11-member Higher Education Council. Members would be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of legislative leaders.
Council members would serve three-year terms and be limited to two consecutive terms.
They would advise the director on academic standards, accountability, financial matters, management and operations, and legislative matters.
If approved during the 2013 Legislature, the measure would be placed on the November 2014 ballot and take effect Jan. 1, 2015.
Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks, asked Carlson why he is proposing the change and what the benefits would be.
“I think the system is not necessarily broken, but the system needs improvement,” Carlson said, pointing to the funding model and accountability. “I think the people are ready to look at options.”
The proposal “wasn’t meant to slap everybody around,” but to look at what’s best for the next 20 years, he said.
Legislators also heard a similar proposal from Citizens for Responsible Government, which is considering an initiated measure. The group suggests replacing the state Board of Higher Education with an elected commissioner of higher education who would have broad authority to manage the University System.
The commissioner would serve a six-year term and be limited to two terms.
Sean Johnson, who spoke on behalf of Citizens for Responsible Government, pointed to the problems at Dickinson State University as one example for the need for change. He also pointed to the Board of Higher Education “disenfranchising the voters of North Dakota” by trying to block a statewide vote on the Fighting Sioux nickname.
North Dakota residents demand change, accountability and what’s best for students, he said.
Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor of Towner asked what safeguards were in place if the elected commissioner could hire and fire presidents. He expressed concern the president positions could be given out as political favors every six years.
Johnson said the commissioner would be able to be recalled like other elected officials if the public was unhappy about performance.
Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, also had concerns about making the job an elected position.
“I think it may be better to look at a person that truly will be a leader versus a person that knows how to campaign,” she said.
She also said it’s easier for the governor to fire an appointed official than for the public to recall one.
Board of Higher Education President Grant Shaft said he doesn’t know that a different governance model would prevent every problem or have different results.
Although headlines have focused on the Fighting Sioux nickname, presidents’ houses and DSU, there’s a lot of good the University System does that doesn’t get attention, he said.
The system is one of the top three most efficient in the country and meets or exceeds accountability measures, Shaft said.
“Is there a better way to do it? I don’t know the answer to that,” he said. “I do know that, in large part, what the board is charged with doing we do well and our institutions do well.”
Citizens for Responsible Government members have never appeared before the board to give input, Shaft said.
“Rarely do we have anybody appear from the general citizenry,” he said.
The board is looking for more of a CEO model when a new chancellor is chosen and would be willing to work with legislators on how to move forward, Shaft said.
Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, agreed there will be problems at some point under any governing model. He asked Johnson if he would be willing to work with the legislative committee as it considers changes to higher education governance before moving forward with an initiated measure.
If Citizens for Responsible Government isn’t satisfied with what comes forward, it can move forward as the group feels appropriate, Skarphol said.
Johnson said he would discuss working together with the organization.
Teri Finneman is a
multimedia reporter for
Forum Communications Co.