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No shortage of ideas for retooling North Dakota higher ed

BISMARCK - Republican Rep. Al Carlson told a joint committee Monday there are many concerns over the current higher education climate, and it needs to be changed.

Republican Rep. Al Carlson, of Fargo
Republican Rep. Al Carlson, of Fargo, right, introduces his idea to restructure the higher education system. Carlson testified to a joint session of the House Education and Judiciary committees on Monday. (TJ Jerke/Forum News Service)

BISMARCK - Republican Rep. Al Carlson told a joint committee Monday there are many concerns over the current higher education climate, and it needs to be changed.

"Do I think it's working smoothly? You read the paper and can decide for yourself," the Fargo lawmaker said during a hearing over his proposal to restructure the current higher education system.

Carlson and four other lawmakers have each proposed varying resolutions that would allow voters to change how the state Board of Higher Education and the university system operates to provide for accountability and structure - two things some say are missing.

The resolutions come as the state board and University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani are under fire over Shirvani's blunt leadership style and accusations of open-meeting law violations since he took over the post in July.

The resolutions - four from the House and one from the Senate - range from creating an elected position to oversee the university system, to allowing more public input on state board decisions and Carlson's proposal to create a department of higher education.


The governor would appoint a director, who serves a three-year term.

"Over the last three years there's been a real shift in policy. If you ask college presidents, most of them fear for their jobs because they have been told they are either not qualified or insubordinate," Carlson said during a hearing Monday on his proposal. "I don't think that's the way we want to run the system."

Creating the department would make the leadership position "no longer a little deal, it's a big deal."

"It will ensure the absolute best person hired for this position when looking at the skills they have," he said. "We should be about hiring the best CEO you can find to run a billion dollar business."

Shirvani was president at California State University, Stanislaus before he was hired last year over three other finalists. His yearly salary is $349,000.

Carlson's resolution completely overhauls the current system and does not create an advisory committee like the state board - two issues the state board is worried about.

Laura Glatt, vice chancellor of academic affairs, speaking against the proposal on behalf of the board of higher ed, said an individual can't perform large projects on their own, such as setting statewide policies and budgets, but "having a true governing board with representation from across the state to actually make such policy decisions provides for a far greater range and depth of input."

One criticism of Shirvani has been not gathering input for some of his proposed reforms.


Glatt was the only person to testify against the measure.

Rep. Joe Heilman, R-Fargo, looked around the room expecting a board member to be in attendance.

"I wanted the committee to have an opportunity to ask the board questions because there were some (Laura) couldn't answer," he said.

Glatt concluded her testimony to Carlson's resolution contending the current negative views toward higher education are causing more problems.

"Are the distractions, uncertainty and political influence that would result from the proposed reorganization be in the best interest of North Dakota's stakeholders? ... We do not believe so," she said, refering to the colleges, students, parents, and taxpayers as the stakeholders.

After the hearing, Heilman said "the stakeholders are not benefiting from the distractions and political influence now," and believes something needs to be changed.

Board President Duaine Espegard refused to comment about any of the proposals, saying The Forum hasn't published submitted opinion articles that would give him and the board a chance to explain their position.

Rep. Jerry Kelsh, D-Fullerton, a member of the Education Committee, said the proposals may deter some from applying since they have strict qualification requirements.


Kelsh spoke out to Carlson's proposal and another heard Monday, sponsored by Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, that asks to replace the state board and chancellor with an elected higher education commissioner and an advisory council appointed by the governor.

Kelsh, who supports the current higher ed structure, although he recognizes it has some problems with political issues, said the issues will run rampant if any proposal to change the system were implemented since, "you can't avoid the process of having endorsed nonpartisan candidates," he said.

"Our largest problem today is we have had the same party appointing people to the board for over 20 years and it becomes a good old boys club," he said. "I think the board needs to be more politically diverse. When it was, we didn't have these problems."

Both resolutions, along with the other three proposals, would repeal the current language in the state constitution that defines the state board, chancellor position and language that includes eight of the 11 universities along with their missions and locations. Carlson's proposal would only remove the schools' missions, but retain their location.

The removal of the state schools from the constitution has continually been a concern by communities sporting a school, worried that by removing language, it would allow the state to close the school.

Readers can reach TJ Jerke at tjerke@forumcomm.com or (701) 255-5607

Legislation affecting N.D. University System

Five House or Senate concurrent resolutions could affect the future of the State Board of Higher Education, chancellor and North Dakota University System. Enacting them requires approval of the Legislature, the governor's signature and approval in a statewide vote.

House Concurrent Resolution 3008

Strips state constitution of wording that outlines the intent of eight of the 11 state universities. Sponsors seek to clarify the constitution, arguing it doesn't include three state schools and others operate outside the scope of the constitution. Removing schools from constitution also makes them vulnerable to closure. State board remains in constitution.

Awaiting action by House Judiciary Committee.

Sponsor: Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, and five co-sponsors.

House Concurrent Resolution 3042

Replaces state board and chancellor with an elected higher education commissioner and an advisory council appointed by the governor.

Awaiting action by the House education and judiciary committees.

Sponsor: Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, and six co-sponsors.

House Concurrent Resolution 3047

Replaces state board and chancellor with a department of higher education led by an executive director to be appointed by the governor.

Awaiting action by the House education and judiciary committees.

Sponsor: Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, and five co-sponsors.

House Concurrent Resolution 3044

Keeps state board but allows residents to appeal its decisions with an initiated measure.

Awaiting action by House Judiciary Committee.

Sponsor: Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 4028

Replaces state board and chancellor with a council of regents. The council would include a chairman, appointed by the governor, and include the superintendent of public instruction and agriculture commissioner. Resolution also would strip the constitution of its language that defines the state board and universities.

Action by Senate Education Committee expected Wednesday.

Sponsor: Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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