Grand Forks HeraldIf North Dakota’s new chancellor thought he’d be able to “listen and learn” for a few months before taking action, he should think again. That’s because as soon as incoming Chancellor Hamid Shirvani takes office, he’ll be confronted with his office’s Job 1: dramatically boosting oversight of the system’s 11 campuses.
If North Dakota’s new chancellor thought he’d be able to “listen and learn” for a few months before taking action, he should think again.
That’s because as soon as incoming Chancellor Hamid Shirvani takes office, he’ll be confronted with his office’s Job 1: dramatically boosting oversight of the system’s 11 campuses.
It’s a job that’ll have to be tackled right away — because if Shirvani doesn’t do it, the Legislature is likely to do it for him.
And that’s not an outcome supporters of a world-class higher education system in North Dakota should want.
The oversight issue is serious enough that the Board of Higher Education ought to tackle it ASAP, long before Shirvani even arrives in Bismarck. After all, the start of the next legislative session is only nine months away. Key lawmakers already have pledged to try to neuter or even eliminate the board at the session.
And if the lawmakers needed strong evidence to support their contention of an “out of control” higher education system, the recent performance audit of Dickinson State University just handed it to them.
Absurd grade inflation. Inappropriately awarded scholarships. Stunning generosity with tuition waivers for nonresident students, almost none of whom paid the full nonresident rate.
Slack practices such that contracts weren’t reviewed, student application fees got spent on flowers and food and “various offices and departments appear to be processing services with no oversight,” the audit reports.
If anything, these findings are even more damaging than the recent scandal about Dickinson State handing out hundreds of unearned degrees.
That’s because in contrast to the earlier, breathtakingly exotic scandal, this one is so mundane. It documents the twisting of routine academic functions across the institution — grading, billing, event planning, accounting. It shows what happens when people in power think they can spend money however they want.
And it should have been caught much earlier than it was. The chancellor’s and board’s claims to be taken by surprise won’t wash in this case. A big part of the system leadership’s job is to monitor the campuses so as not to be caught by surprise, just as the home office must do in any multi-branch organization.
That’s the function that seems to have fallen by the wayside, the audit of Dickinson State suggests. And that’s the function the board and new chancellor must reboot — fast.
After all, if Dickinson State’s slipshod practices motored along under the chancellor’s radar, what confidence can North Dakotans have in the other campuses’ operations?
North Dakotans need to know whether such practices are the norm at any other of the state’s schools. That means audits probably are in order.
Then taxpayers will want to see much tougher safeguards put in place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Then and only then, board members and the new chancellor will be able to tell the Legislature that they understand and have answered lawmakers’ concerns.
The Herald’s editorial board proudly supports a first-rate higher education system and has argued forcefully for its independence. But the message today is that this independence is threatened, the weight of the Dickinson State audit is straining the camel’s back — and the board must act decisively to strengthen its oversight and control.