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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 23 2013

Voters to decide next year on higher ed board

BISMARCK – Voters will decide in 2014 whether a three-member, full-time commission should replace the current eight-member, part-time state Board of Higher Education.

House lawmakers sent House Concurrent Resolution 3047 to the 2014 statewide ballot by a 55-34 vote Tuesday after the Senate approved the measure Monday. It requires a statewide vote because it seeks to change the constitution.

Duaine Espegard, president of the state board, said he wasn’t surprised it passed.

“It’s now up to the people of North Dakota to decide if they want the legislative body to run higher education,” he said. “I don’t believe that’s the way.”

If passed, the new commission will take effect July 1, 2015, which gives the Legislature time to meet and craft rules and parameters for the new system.

It would be the end of the state board and chancellor, which would be removed from the state constitution and replaced with the new commission.

One commissioner would have to have leadership experience in a private-sector business, a second must hold a professional position within the higher education sector and the third could be an at-large member.

Sponsors of the bill want a different system that provides a clear chain of command between the higher education system’s governing board and the 11 university presidents.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said Tuesday that presidents are purposely bypassing the chancellor and seeking approval right from the state board. He said they should be going to the chancellor, who is hired by the board, first.

Those opposed to the proposal say the new commission would be closely tied to the state government, and not have autonomy from legislative proceedings.

The proposed commission would be subject to rules prescribed by the Legislature and go through the same appointment process the board members go through today.

The governor would appoint three full-time commissioners from a list of nominees agreed upon by two legislative leaders, the chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court, the superintendent of public instruction and a representative of an educational interest group.

The three would have to be confirmed by the Senate and would serve four-year terms.

Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, said the resolution will create a political animal.

“It seems we’re really trying to take control of this,” he said.

The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said now is the time to take control of the state board.

“This is not a very functional system we have today,” he said, noting the state board has been in the news recently for violating open meetings laws.

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, told the House chamber he was tired of hearing people say higher ed is dysfunctional.

“There have been problems, we all know what they are and it’s nice to beat up on people time and again,” he said. “But every problem that has come to light has been corrected.”