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Carlson’s red herring is red flag

If North Dakota House Majority Leader Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, had run his contracting business the way he operates in the Legislature, he’d have been out of business years ago. The veteran lawmaker, whose sole purpose frequently seems to be to gather up more power for himself and the legislative branch, was at it again last week when he proclaimed without a hint of chagrin that he knows more about the accreditation of the state’s universities than do the folks who actually do the accrediting.

The matter arose during a Greater North Dakota Chamber political summit at which the ballot measure that would replace the volunteer state Board of Higher Education with an appointed three-member paid professional board was discussed. Carlson said fear that the amendment, if passed, would threaten accreditation is a “red herring.”

It’s red all right. But the red is in a red flag hoisted months ago by the Higher Learning Commission, the accrediting agency. HLC President Sylvia Manning wrote that the proposed constitutional change “raises questions about whether … the institutions would be in compliance with Commission’s requirements on governance.” It was an unsubtle warning that accrediting requirements would not measure up under the amendment’s restructuring of higher education’s oversight. Carlson’s conclusion that HLC’s red flag is a red herring is wrong.

Additionally, the language of the proposed amendment would all but strip constitutional status from several of the campuses, thus handing Carlson and his allies in the Legislature the tools to slash and burn through the system. That’s an opportunity some lawmakers have been lusting after since 1938, when North Dakota voters in their wisdom removed the higher ed system from the ham-handed overreach of partisan political agendas.

Speaking of overreach, Carlson is the leader who extended unnecessarily the bitter argument and statewide trauma over the University of North Dakota logo and nickname. As majority leader, he bears responsibility for allowing his charges to enmesh the state in expensive and ultimately quixotic legal challenges to state laws regarding abortion and end-of-life matters. He championed a measure on the November ballot that would make it more difficult for North Dakotans to refer or initiate laws – another indication of his quest for more legislative power.

So when the majority leader and like-minded legislators declare that worry about higher ed accreditation is a “red herring,” take your herring with a generous sprinkling of salt. And then listen to the experts who know what they are talking about. Carlson is not one of them.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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