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McFeely: While NDSU tries to move forward, Skarphol wants isolationism

It's quite a skill to lob a grenade 7,700 miles from Tioga, N.D., to India, but that's what state Rep. Bob Skarphol did Sunday. Not bad for a 70-year-old. Too bad he can't put all that feistiness to better use.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely
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It's quite a skill to lob a grenade 7,700 miles from Tioga, N.D., to India, but that's what state Rep. Bob Skarphol did Sunday. Not bad for a 70-year-old. Too bad he can't put all that feistiness to better use. Skarphol fired off an email to fellow legislators blasting North Dakota State President Dean Bresciani and the State Board of Higher Education because Bresciani is in India recruiting students for his school's science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. "I find it very disturbing that we have the taxpayers of North Dakota being forced to subsidize the education of international students to advance the hypothetical status of an institution," Skarphol wrote.
"Would it not be more appropriate to concentrate efforts on insuring that an education is affordable by minimizing, rather than expanding, administrative costs; elevating the retention rates through meaningful change; increasing the quality of the education by utilizing highly qualified full time faculty; and insuring that students can get the needed courses to enable four year graduation to provide the workforce needed in our economy?" He continued: "It remains obvious that the Board is still unable to find the intestinal fortitude to retake control of the presidents of our institutions. It appears that there is not a sufficient number of Board members willing to back the leadership of the current President of the Board and make the necessary changes." Skarphol believes Bresciani is trying to attract international students to help NDSU reach his stated enrollment goal of 18,000 students in the next five years. In October, Bresciani said that target would help NDSU achieve status in the Association of American Universities, an elite organization of 62 research institutions. Bresciani left Friday and will return Jan. 26. A university spokesperson said, "The purpose of the trip is to develop collaborative research, scholarship and grad students in the STEM fields, which business leaders have indicated is critical. Trips like this are common for university presidents. However, because he doesn't like to be away from his job, this is President Bresciani's first trip like this in the six years he has been at NDSU." Of course, this is what modern college presidents do. Of course, this is what modern universities do. Of course, this is what one of the two major research institutions in North Dakota should do. It should strive to attract the best students from around the world to meet its vision as a vibrant research university. This is what the world does in 2016. It appears Skarphol is residing in 1966, when the world was much larger and North Dakota much smaller. He's long been at war with higher ed, despises NDSU, dislikes Bresciani and likely doesn't think much of Fargo. None of which makes him unique in the Legislature, by the way. There seems to be a cabal of mostly western lawmakers who believe that "higher education" is defined as the second floor of their hometown school. And it's not Skarphol's first go-around with non-North Dakota students. He requested an audit of the university's tuition-waiver system in 2012, which was eventually completed in 2015. Skarphol took issue with the results, of course, because they outlined how many waivers NDSU and the University of North Dakota were granting. "This is nothing new for me," an unapologetic Skarphol said Tuesday. "I'm not buying that they are not trying to reach their enrollment goals by doing this. They are likely going to give them discounts, tuition waivers, stipends. They are going to educate these kids (and get) a lot less than they'd get for educating an American kid. It doesn't make any sense to me." Skarphol's position is intractable because he believes North Dakota taxpayers shouldn't subsidize the education of non-North Dakota students. His position seems one of education isolationism, that state universities should be for North Dakotans first, last and always. He ignores the reality of a global economy, competition in trying to attract graduate students, the influx of Minnesota students to NDSU and the University of North Dakota and, frankly, the relative unpreparedness of North Dakota high school students when they reach college. There's a big, broad world out here beyond the city limits of Tioga. It's a fascinating place. Skarphol should visit sometime. As for his cheap shot at the Board of Higher Education, a simple question needs to be asked: Does the board need to grant permission to Bresciani, or any other president, to travel abroad and recruit international students? "If that was our job, we wouldn't be capable of it with 11 campuses," said board member Greg Stemen of Fort Ransom. "Hopefully we can set policy that strengthens our system as a whole. It's not up to us to run the day-to-day operations." Nor is it up to the Legislature. And that just downright bothers Skarphol and his cronies. So he's left to lob insults across an ocean and a couple of continents. Skarphol's retirement can't come soon enough for those who value higher education in North Dakota.It's quite a skill to lob a grenade 7,700 miles from Tioga, N.D., to India, but that's what state Rep. Bob Skarphol did Sunday. Not bad for a 70-year-old. Too bad he can't put all that feistiness to better use.Skarphol fired off an email to fellow legislators blasting North Dakota State President Dean Bresciani and the State Board of Higher Education because Bresciani is in India recruiting students for his school's science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields."I find it very disturbing that we have the taxpayers of North Dakota being forced to subsidize the education of international students to advance the hypothetical status of an institution," Skarphol wrote.
"Would it not be more appropriate to concentrate efforts on insuring that an education is affordable by minimizing, rather than expanding, administrative costs; elevating the retention rates through meaningful change; increasing the quality of the education by utilizing highly qualified full time faculty; and insuring that students can get the needed courses to enable four year graduation to provide the workforce needed in our economy?"He continued: "It remains obvious that the Board is still unable to find the intestinal fortitude to retake control of the presidents of our institutions. It appears that there is not a sufficient number of Board members willing to back the leadership of the current President of the Board and make the necessary changes."Skarphol believes Bresciani is trying to attract international students to help NDSU reach his stated enrollment goal of 18,000 students in the next five years. In October, Bresciani said that target would help NDSU achieve status in the Association of American Universities, an elite organization of 62 research institutions.Bresciani left Friday and will return Jan. 26. A university spokesperson said, "The purpose of the trip is to develop collaborative research, scholarship and grad students in the STEM fields, which business leaders have indicated is critical. Trips like this are common for university presidents. However, because he doesn't like to be away from his job, this is President Bresciani's first trip like this in the six years he has been at NDSU."Of course, this is what modern college presidents do. Of course, this is what modern universities do. Of course, this is what one of the two major research institutions in North Dakota should do. It should strive to attract the best students from around the world to meet its vision as a vibrant research university. This is what the world does in 2016.It appears Skarphol is residing in 1966, when the world was much larger and North Dakota much smaller. He's long been at war with higher ed, despises NDSU, dislikes Bresciani and likely doesn't think much of Fargo. None of which makes him unique in the Legislature, by the way. There seems to be a cabal of mostly western lawmakers who believe that "higher education" is defined as the second floor of their hometown school.And it's not Skarphol's first go-around with non-North Dakota students. He requested an audit of the university's tuition-waiver system in 2012, which was eventually completed in 2015. Skarphol took issue with the results, of course, because they outlined how many waivers NDSU and the University of North Dakota were granting."This is nothing new for me," an unapologetic Skarphol said Tuesday. "I'm not buying that they are not trying to reach their enrollment goals by doing this. They are likely going to give them discounts, tuition waivers, stipends. They are going to educate these kids (and get) a lot less than they'd get for educating an American kid. It doesn't make any sense to me."Skarphol's position is intractable because he believes North Dakota taxpayers shouldn't subsidize the education of non-North Dakota students. His position seems one of education isolationism, that state universities should be for North Dakotans first, last and always. He ignores the reality of a global economy, competition in trying to attract graduate students, the influx of Minnesota students to NDSU and the University of North Dakota and, frankly, the relative unpreparedness of North Dakota high school students when they reach college.There's a big, broad world out here beyond the city limits of Tioga. It's a fascinating place. Skarphol should visit sometime.As for his cheap shot at the Board of Higher Education, a simple question needs to be asked: Does the board need to grant permission to Bresciani, or any other president, to travel abroad and recruit international students?"If that was our job, we wouldn't be capable of it with 11 campuses," said board member Greg Stemen of Fort Ransom. "Hopefully we can set policy that strengthens our system as a whole. It's not up to us to run the day-to-day operations."Nor is it up to the Legislature. And that just downright bothers Skarphol and his cronies. So he's left to lob insults across an ocean and a couple of continents. Skarphol's retirement can't come soon enough for those who value higher education in North Dakota.

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