N.D. universities need more oversightYou’re the president of the University of North Dakota. You’re one of the highest-paid executives in North Dakota state government. You were hired for your managerial skill.
By: Grand Forks Herald , The Jamestown Sun
You’re the president of the University of North Dakota. You’re one of the highest-paid executives in North Dakota state government. You were hired for your managerial skill.
Now, along comes another highly paid executive — your nominal supervisor in Bismarck — who promises to dramatically increase his central office’s inspection and oversight of your campus operations.
How should you react?
With gratitude. In his first few days in office, Hamid Shirvani, the North Dakota University System’s new chancellor, has promised that increased oversight. And if UND President Robert Kelley and the system’s other CEOs are smart (which they are), they’ll welcome Shirvani’s initiative because it’s exactly what the system needs.
There’s a saying in journalism: Everybody needs an editor. No matter how competent a reporter is or how skilled with words, his or her work will benefit from the questions asked and criticisms raised by a good editor.
It’s hard on the writer’s ego at times. It’s deflating to see a reader frown or even shake his or her head at your words.
But it’s always — OK, almost always — for the best. The story is improved, because two professionals’ heads are better than one.
The North Dakota University System needs that thinking, even though Kelley, North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani and the other presidents are solid chief executives. For evidence, look no further than recent events, when the state auditor released his study of UND and NDSU’s student fees.
“We conclude NDSU and UND have inappropriately used fee moneys,” the report declared. It went on to document how casual the fee management had become.
Some of its examples are petty. For example, when NDSU students want a copy of their transcript, they pay a $5 fee. Must the university sequester that money and use it only for, say, fixing the copying machine?
No. It’s an incidental charge, one imposed by high schools as well as colleges. And if it winds up flowing into a general account, so be it. Users don’t pay such a fee expecting that every nickel will go toward the transcription costs.
But what about NDSU architecture students, each of whom paid a $930 program fee in the fall of 2010? Did those students expect that $20,000 of their program fee moneys would be used to pay for the separation agreement for an employee who left NDSU?
“Program fee revenue must be allocated for the primary benefit of students enrolled in that program,” the university system’s policy required at the time.
Not to pick on NDSU; the audit dings UND plenty of times, as well. And no wonder, given that UND’s list counts more than 600 separate course fees, ranging from $5 for an Introduction to Geology lab to $1,875 for the air traffic control program’s Radar Operations 1.
The point is that in the absence of tight supervision, the universities too often treated these fees as “tuition by any other name.”
Clearly, it’s a lot easier to increase fees than it is to raise tuition. But that’s because students, parents and lawmakers alike trust the universities to use specified fees for specified, student-centered purposes.
And when UND instead uses program fee money for such things as remodeling a dean’s office, constituents feel there’s been a betrayal of trust.
Shirvani put it this way: The Roundtable Report empowered the universities under a system of “flexibility with accountability” — and the result has been a decade of dramatic improvements.
But at this point, there’s a bit too much flexibility and not enough accountability, as shown by not only the audit but also the infamous events at Dickinson State, Shirvani said. More oversight from the central office can restore that balance.
And as Gov. Jack Dalrymple himself recently agreed, that’s a far better reform than some of the alternatives, which include taking away the higher education system’s independence altogether.
Everybody needs an editor — and for North Dakota’s college presidents, that’s the role Shirvani was hired to play. Lawmakers can debate the number of staffers he wants, but they should accept his overall goal, which is to give the university system the oversight it needs.