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Earl S. Strinden, Published March 12 2013

Letter: Trust, confidence are vital to the future of ND higher ed

Higher education being a major issue for the Legislature is predictable. To suggest the legislative branch should not be concerned and involved is ignoring history.

North Dakota’s premier historian, the late professor emeritus Elwyn Robinson, spoke to the attention the early settlers of our state placed on educational opportunities for their children. The need for teachers for the public schools prompted the establishing of colleges – geographically placed for reasonable travel distances for the students. Public education was a high priority and this is a mark of distinction and pride for our state.

The pioneers, in drafting and approving our state’s Constitution, were fearful of a powerful executive and made the Legislature the dominant branch of government.

For many reasons, including the federal programs involving the states and a governor having a daily presence, the power and influence for a governor has dramatically increased. A major transfer of power was the Legislature requiring the governor to prepare and present to the Legislature the state’s biennial budget.

We can be proud of our state in national comparisons. North Dakota is always at or near the top for percentage of high school graduates and for those who pursue post-high-school education. Higher education in North Dakota is more efficient and less expensive.

In North Dakota, providing educational opportunities is an important economic, social and cultural engine. Obviously, legislators are contacted by those employed by a university or college.

What we are experiencing at this time is a failure of leadership by the Board of Higher Education and the chancellor. Accomplishment in public policy will happen only by gaining the trust and confidence from those who are charged with implementing a plan or program.

Unfortunately, this situation overshadows some ideas that should have thoughtful discussion. The public will be best served by identifying institutional strengths and goals and research centers. To encourage graduation in four years rather than seven or eight is a worthy goal. The availability and ease of securing student loans has facilitated expansion of administration paid for by increasing student tuitions and fees.

It can be expected those comfortable with the status quo will strongly oppose change. Times change, however, and at this time in our history there is a need for higher education to meet new challenges and opportunities. For this to happen, there must be a high level of trust between the board and the Legislature. Their constitutional responsibilities can be compatible. Is it too late for this to happen? Trust and confidence lost cannot easily be restored.


Strinden, Grand Forks, is former North Dakota House majority leader.