Reduced higher ed board meeting schedule worries ND college faculty

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BISMARCK — A North Dakota faculty group has issued an official letter of concern about a plan to cut the monthly in-person meetings of the university system's governing board.

Council of College Faculties President Debora Dragseth personally spoke out last month against the possibility of the State Board of Higher Education switching from its current meeting schedule to one that would see board members gathering in Bismarck on a quarterly basis. In a letter dated Nov. 7, the CCF issued a collective statement expressing concerns that meeting only four times a year "prevents an opportunity to strengthen the trust and understanding between the SBHE and the 11 institutions that make up our system."

SBHE Chair Don Morton said last month the shift to fewer in-person meetings could help the board be more efficient by simplifying travel needs. The board now often meets at a different North Dakota University System campus each month, a road schedule Morton described as excessive given the typical length of a meeting agenda.

The revised meeting plan will be introduced in the upcoming November meeting of the SBHE and still needs to be approved by board vote. Morton said the in-person gatherings would likely be supplemented by social events held the night prior to SBHE business, as well as digital meetings hosted on an as-needed basis. To fit the full amount of work into fewer in-person sessions, the SBHE would also bulk up the presence of its committees. That way, discussion at board meetings held in person could be moved onto a streamlined consent agenda.

The CCF letter called that strategy into question.

"In a time of uncertainty, subcommittees that forward consent agendas, canceled meetings, and the end of campus interaction will only serve to distance the SBHE further from the mission of education," wrote the council, adding that "there seems to have been a gradual falling away" of interaction between the board and the NDUS institutions.

That council expressed concern that the reduced contact could create "unnecessary obscurity" and hurt accreditation efforts. As such, the CCF recommended the board adopt a 2018 schedule consisting of one annual retreat and between six and eight full-day, in-person meetings that continue to rotate in location through the NDUS institutions.

Morton responded to the council Thursday, Nov. 9, to thank it for its input and share details of the 2018 schedule he intends to submit for board consideration. Though he wrote that he supports keeping a monthly meeting schedule through digital means, Morton stood by the prospect of a quarterly set of in-person meetings to be held in Bismarck. As before, the chair cited time savings—including those of attending campus presidents—in reducing the travel schedule attached to in-person meetings.

"What most people do not understand is the time that board members spend doing committee work, legislative work, public relations, individual preparation and public speaking," Morton wrote, adding that the board has "worked hard to be transparent and accessible" through its digital meeting broadcasts.