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Published April 03 2011

Ask Your Government: Reader wonders about formation of higher ed board

Dear Teri,

Could you maybe give an explanation of why North Dakota has a state Board of Higher Education and how it came to be?

Andrew Brown


Thanks for the question! I found the North Dakota Blue Book for 2009-11 to be a good source of the history of this board. For those interested, I’m quoting from Pages 567 and 568.

“Prior to 1911, all public colleges and the university were governed by independent boards of trustees whose members were appointed by the governor. In that year, the State Board of Normal School Trustees was created to administer specifically the affairs of the normal schools (or teacher colleges).

“In 1915, the State Board of Regents were (sic) created and given authority over all public colleges, including the normal schools, and the university.

“The 1919 Legislative Assembly abolished the Board of Regents and placed the administration of the public colleges and the university under a new agency, the Board of Administration. This board consisted of three gubernatorial appointees as well as the superintendent of public instruction and commissioner of agriculture and labor, serving as ex-officio members.

“The controversy surrounding the charges of political interference in the administration of the North Dakota Agriculture College and the firing of its president and seven high-ranking faculty members in 1937 precipitated a movement to create an independent board to govern the state’s institutions of higher learning.

“A constitutional amendment was initiated to create a Board of Higher Education, which was approved by voters in June 1938. The new board consisted of seven members, each appointed by the governor for seven-year terms, under a very carefully spelled out procedure intended to remove the board members as far as possible from political influence.

“The new law also required appointment of a commissioner of higher education, by the board, to serve as its chief executive officer.

“In February 1990, the board took action creating a one-university system headed by a chancellor who serves as the system’s chief executive officer; presidents of each institution report directly to the chancellor.

“The State Board of Higher Education currently consists of seven citizen members, one student member and one non-voting faculty advisor. The governor appoints the voting citizen members to four-year terms … these appointments require the consent of the majority of the state Senate.

“The State Board of Higher Education is the policy-setting and advocacy body for the North Dakota University System. Decisions on issues with system-wide implications are made by the board and chancellor in consultation with the cabinet (university presidents, executive dean and vice chancellors). The CEOs of the institutions retain their authority in managing campus affairs.”

You can also find North Dakota’s constitution here: www.legis.nd.gov/constitution/const.pdf. Education is listed under Article VIII. The board of higher education is discussed in Section 6.

You can find more about the board’s roles and responsibilities at www.ndus.edu/board.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

Email politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.