- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Supporters of replacing the current eight-member, part-time North Dakota Board of a Higher Education with a three-member, full-time commission say the change is needed to handle a burgeoning system with 11 colleges and universities. Opponents say the numbers don’t add up.

Some of the arguments were laid out earlier this week in a public forum that featured the sponsor of the original measure, Republican Rep. Al Carlson, of Fargo. Carlson, the House majority leader, said higher education is a $2 billion enterprise that is too big for a part-time board to handle.

Carlson cited what he called embarrassing incidents like Dickinson State University giving out bogus degrees, the University of North Dakota medical school receiving a warning from an accreditation agency and several instances where the board broke open meetings laws.

“I could make a laundry list of things that have happened in higher education and on the board in the last three or four years, but that’s not the purpose of the measure,” Carlson said. “The purpose of the measure is governance.”

Democratic Rep. Eliot Glassheim, who attended the forum, said he doesn’t see the measure offering significant change for lawmakers who are upset that the board isn’t following orders.

“Some legislators are frustrated that they have too little control over the board, and I think that was the reason for this initiated measure,” Glassheim said. “How will they have any more control over these three people then they have over the eight people?”

Glassheim added that the current system already has a full-time manager in the university system chancellor.

“I’m not sure the analysis really works all that well,” Glassheim told Carlson. “You’re substituting three people of equal authority for one person who is supposed to make recommendations to this more widespread board.”

Replied Carlson, “God bless democracy, 2-to-1 still wins. It’s worked for us in the Public Service Commission; it’s worked for us in the Industrial Commission. Those people gather information, they each have a portfolio, they bring that together, they vote on the group and they pass on their information. So I think it works.”

Carlson said he doesn’t believe the measure opens the door for micromanaging by the Legislature.

“It doesn’t give us any more authority or any less authority in higher education,” he said. “What it does do is expect some accountability, probably, with the dollars being spent.”

Matt Perdue, a Dickinson State University student who’s leading a grassroots movement to defeat the measure, said his group is worried that the students will lose their voice. The current board has a voting student member.

“In 2013, 44.2 percent of the operating revenues of the university system came from student fees and tuition,” Purdue said. “Switching to more of an agency type model doesn’t make a lot sense. You wouldn’t include your most significant consumer in decision making, no matter which way you look at it.”

Carlson said he favors an advisory group that would include faculty and student members.

Some higher education officials and others are worried that the change could threaten academic programs partly because the system has never been tried under the Higher Learning Commission, the accreditation agency for the university measure. Murray Sagsveen, chief of staff for the university system, said it’s unclear whether the proposed commission would meet the HLC’s requirements for autonomy and governance.

Carlson said his group’s research has revealed no instances where governance was an issue with the HLC.

“I don’t believe we’re going to lose our accreditation. I can’t tell you we won’t, any more than Murray can tell you we will,” he said.

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