Jacobs: Reviews should stay open
Now the former president of the Board of Higher Education issues an ultimatum. Let the board conduct its reviews of presidents in secret, Kirsten Diederich says. Or else there will be no 360 reviews. The answer to that one is simple. Get rid of t...
Now the former president of the Board of Higher Education issues an ultimatum.
Let the board conduct its reviews of presidents in secret, Kirsten Diederich says.
Or else there will be no 360 reviews.
The answer to that one is simple.
Get rid of the 360 reviews.
Reviews of this type are clumsy and time-consuming. They suck up a lot of energy. They allow the chief operating officer to avoid doing the reviews.
That should be his chief job.
So this little dust-up creates an opportunity for the board to clarify the role of the chancellor, to bring more cohesion and consistency to the university system and to exercise greater supervision over the individual campuses and their presidents.
That role of the chancellor should be to choose the presidents, to encourage and admonish them, to monitor their activity and to judge their effectiveness.
If necessary, the chancellor should have the power to fire them.
For its part, the board should set policy and be sure that the chancellor carries it out, by working with the presidents.
After the chaos of the past decade, it should be clear that the problem with the North Dakota University System is just this: The board can’t exercise control because it refuses to let the chancellor do his job. So the presidents act on their own much of the time.
There have been two outrageous examples of this and several lesser – or lesser reported – examples.
A chancellor who worked closely with the presidents, with the board’s full backing and authority, could head off the duplication of programs that had infested the system, could identify and bring forward ideas for new programs and new ways of doing things, could see emerging problems such as deteriorating infrastructure or lax instructional standards, and could act.
More important, such a chancellor could carry out board policy more effectively.
The 360 reviews take a lot of time, and not just the chancellor’s time. Deans, faculty and staff on the campuses are asked to take part. So are external clients of the system, such as alumni and community leaders.
All of this material is supposed to be collated and evaluated and shared with the person being reviewed.
Chances are that doesn’t happen, though, because the material that’s gathered is uneven in quality and sometimes irrelevant and even petty. I know this because I both conducted and was subject to such reviews for a time while the Knight Ridder company owned the Herald. I hated them as a pernicious waste of time and energy. Much better to understand how the business works and to stay in close touch with those responsible for making things possible, and in this way to identify and address whatever problems came up.
That system will produce a far better evaluation than the 360 review. It can be made public as the work of the chancellor, and its thoroughness can be an item in the chancellor’s own review, which the board would conduct.
It’s odd that reviews of the presidents have become a pivotal point in this long, long controversy about the state’s higher education system.
Here’s a chance to seize on it and to make the board stronger and the system better. And to put an end to the controversy.
The Legislature ought to tell the board that reviews will be open, as the law now requires.
Then the board ought to go about the business of clarifying and enhancing the chancellor’s role.
The time is right for this. A search is under way for a new chancellor, and the governor will have the opportunity to appoint a new board member to replace Diederich, who resigned last week – in advance of what promised to be a contentious confirmation hearing in the state Senate.
Diederich had to go, of course. She was the rod that drew the lightning.
At first, it wasn’t clear how her resignation could make things better. Now it seems that might be possible.
Jacobs is the former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.