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Published April 24, 2013, 08:48 AM

North Dakota voters to decide higher ed board's structure

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota voters will decide next year whether a three-member, full-time commission should replace the current eight-member, part-time state Board of Higher Education.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota voters will decide next year whether a three-member, full-time commission should replace the current eight-member, part-time state Board of Higher Education.

The House on Tuesday approved sending the measure to the November 2014 statewide ballot, according to The Forum and The Bismarck Tribune. The Senate approved it Monday. It requires a vote because it seeks to change the state constitution, which calls for a state board and a university system chancellor.

The higher education board oversees the state's 11 public colleges and universities. Sponsors of the measure want a different system that provides a clear chain of command between higher education's governing board and the university presidents. Presidents are purposely bypassing the chancellor and seeking approval directly from the board, said Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck.

A part-time state Board of Higher Education overseeing a $3 billion budget also is an outdated model, according to Nathe.

"(It) makes no sense when dealing with billions of dollars invested in the system," he said.

The higher education board also has been criticized for violating state open meeting laws.

"This is not a very functional system we have today," said the resolution's sponsor, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo.

People opposed to the proposal say a permanent commission would be closely tied to state government and would not have autonomy from the Legislature.

The proposed commission would be subject to rules prescribed by lawmakers.

"It's now up to the people of North Dakota to decide if they want the legislative body to run higher education," board President Duaine Espegard said. "I don't believe that's the way."

If approved, the new commission would take effect July 1, 2015. Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, said he thinks voters will soundly reject the idea. He said he is tired of critics saying higher education in North Dakota is dysfunctional.

"Every problem that has come to light has been corrected," he said.

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