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Ryan Johnson and TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 27 2013

Amendment would eliminate higher ed board

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s higher education system for the last 75 years could become a thing of the past under a plan now being discussed in the Legislature.

House Concurrent Resolution 3042, introduced by Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, would amend the state’s constitution to create the elected office of higher education commissioner and replace the state Board of Higher Education with an advisory council appointed by the governor.

In essence, the change would flip the higher education balance of power that’s been in place since 1938, when voters approved the creation of the board through a constitutional amendment.

Becker said the proposal has nothing to do with recent criticism of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, including an amendment offering money to buy out his remaining contract that passed the Senate on Wednesday.

“We could have had a person in there that is doing a good job,” Becker said, adding that he isn’t saying Shirvani is doing a bad job. “It would not have mattered.”

Becker said the resolution also was coming from him and the conversations he’s had with constituents, not from Republican leadership.

During the 2011 legislative session, House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, unsuccessfully proposed an education overhaul to create a state Department of Education and eliminate the state Board of Higher Education.

Six other Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution: Sen. Nicole Poolman and Reps. Thomas Beadle, Jason Dockter, Alex Looysen, Karen Rohr and Mike Schatz.

If approved, the resolution would strike language now in the constitution that established the state Board of Higher Education and gave the board authority over the public campuses, including the ability to hire and fire campus presidents and the power to hire a chancellor.

Instead, voters would elect a higher education commissioner every four years beginning in 2016 who would have the sole authority to appoint and remove campus presidents and “do all things necessary and proper for the effective and efficient administration of the North Dakota University System.”

The commissioner would work with a “higher education advisory council” consisting of seven, nine or 11 members appointed by the governor.

The resolution first needs to pass the House and the Senate. If that happens, it would go to voters in the November 2014 general election because legislators are required to put constitutional amendments to a public vote.

Becker said his goal is to have a position, whether elected or appointed, that would have control over the university system.