By any objective measure, Fargo’s Kevin Melicher is among the best nominees ever to the North Dakota Board of Higher Education. It was a surprise and disappointment, therefore, when a state Senate subcommittee voted Monday 3-2 to recommend he not be confirmed by the full Senate. The Senate is scheduled to vote today, and if senators are serious about getting qualified and motivated people on the higher ed board, they should confirm Melicher.
The subcommittee vote came after a nearly two-hour grilling of the nominee. It was one of those legislative exercises in looking back, rather than looking forward. It was an opportunity for lawmakers to regurgitate old grievances with the University System, rather than focus on ways to build on the system’s strengths and successes. It was one of those “we’ll-show-’em-who’s-in-charge” moments that has more to do with petty power politics than higher education.
It was not overt, but also at work in the confirmation process is the myopic sentiment that “my city” and “my school” must be represented on the board. A cabal of lawmakers is in a snit because the board soon will not include a member from Grand Forks. That destructive parochialism is a factor in the skewed confirmation equation.
For his part, Melicher’s measured and civil responses to a sometimes hostile subcommittee reflected his seriousness about education. At least one committee member tried to tag the nominee with responsibility for situations that occurred before Melicher was nominated, and before he joined the board temporarily in June. Again, Melicher was looking ahead while some legislators were stuck in past controversies – situations that developed and in some cases were resolved long before Melicher was tapped for the board.
The nominee knows education. He served with distinction on the Fargo School Board. In the months he’s been on higher ed board, he’s immersed himself in board policy and issues, tending to get into the debate only when satisfied he’s informed. Chancellor Larry Skogen has praised Melicher’s diligence.
If the Melicher confirmation is about education, he’ll be confirmed. If it’s about politics and power plays, all bets are off. The subcommittee got it wrong Monday. The Senate should be able to get it right today.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.