Port: Why shouldn’t North Dakota’s universities have a ‘sword’ over their heads?

Rob Port
Rob PortForum News Service

MINOT, N.D. -- Recently the editorial board of the Grand Forks Herald came out against HCR3016.

That legislation, introduced by state Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck), is a proposed amendment which would remove the mandate for 8 of North Dakota’s 11 public institutions of higher education from the state constitution.

“Regardless of its declared intent, HCR 3016 would unnecessarily leave a sword hanging over the head of Mayville State and that community, despite the express intent of North Dakota's founders,” the paper opined.

They say that like it’s a bad thing.

The institutions in the state constitution must exist, by law.

It doesn’t matter if they’re needed in the rapidly evolving world of higher education.

It doesn’t matter if the faculty and administration at those institutions are doing a good job.

It doesn’t even matter if those institutions are the best way to serve the research and educational needs of the state.

The law says they must exist, and so they exist.

It’s not a good way to do business.

The Herald talks about this “sword” which would hang over those schools, but those of us who work in the private sector (including newspaper editors and publishers) know all about swords.

The enterprises we start, the businesses we work for, either perform or they die. If they offer goods and/or services the public finds valuable at prices the public is willing to pay they’ll thrive.

If not, they won’t. Through that mechanism, good businesses flourish while bad businesses fail.

Would this be such a bad thing for higher education? A world where arrogant administrators - aided and abetted by powerful alumni, commerce-minded local businesses, and politicians addled by parochialism - often rank service to students and the state very low on their priority lists?

Maybe a little fear of the sword would help these people find the right priorities.

The Herald editorial uses Mayville State University as an example of a school which could be on the chopping block absent a law requiring its existence, but it could just as well be Minot State University. Or Valley City State.

Or whatever it is we’re calling the public university in Bottineau these days.

The proponents of these schools talk until they’re blue in the face about the valuable services they provide. The students who find success there. The important research. The cultural enrichment.

If these claims are true, if they aren’t the fatuous embellishments of self-interested parties, what is there to worry about?

If HCR3016 passes it would create “yet another statewide vote” which “continues a tiresome trend.” That’s a bit misleading.

The last time this issue was on the statewide ballot was 1998, more than two decades ago.

A lot has changed since then.

It’s worth testing whether or not North Dakotans are open to eschewing the arguments of entrenched bureaucrats and special interests and creating some injecting desperately needed accountability into the university system.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.