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Lloyd Omdahl, Published June 16 2013

Omdahl: Thus far, it’s not sticking

Help wanted, desperately.

Position: Overseer of the institutions of higher learning in North Dakota; actual title to be negotiated. Constitution calls the position “commissioner,” but everyone hopes for a “chancellor.” The constitution has not been amended to change the title because we were unsure that “chancellor” would stick. Thus far, it hasn’t.

Answers to a board of higher education, a group of eight members who will support the commissioner until he/she behaves like a chancellor.

The turnover in this position has been so frequent in recent years that rapid departure is now considered the norm. The position is permanent by description but interim by practice so it would be unwise to unpack luggage during the first year.

The contract for the position in this advertisement will be for three years, but it will be less if the state unhappiness meter rises above 3 percent. Check with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for job insurance.

Job description

Unify the 11 state institutions into one integrated system that best serves the students while fighting off the state Legislature, school presidents, the central Bismarck staff, alumni organizations, the Board of Higher Education and the state citizenry, all of whom are entitled to a final say on all decisions.

Confer regularly with the board, legislators, presidents, staff members, alumni and citizenry. (In North Dakota, everybody gets a “say.”) Warn them three years in advance of plans to change procedures or programs.

Organize statewide hearings on all proposals. The more hearings the better. Hearings, though unattended, provide insulation against critics later.

Draft a master plan for higher education. Triple space so there will be room for corrections and changes. It need not be lengthy but it must be responsive to the aforementioned groups, all of who will expect to see their ideas included in the final draft.

Credentials

Applicants must have an advanced degree from some accredited institution. However, a degree in administration from an online university will be unacceptable without a suitable practicum, preferably as a sergeant-major in a U.S. Army unit in Afghanistan.

Demeanor

In North Dakota, style is more important than substance. In North Dakota, process is more important than substance. That is why, in North Dakota, we often fail to get to substance. So the key to success is to excel in style and process. Leadership, while highly touted, is not crucial. In fact, it is dangerous.

The demeanor of the overseer must not be impeachable, otherwise he will be.

Smile at all children; be kind to dogs.

Curtsy to all legislators.

Grovel before presidents of small as well as large institutions.

Genuflect for all board members, regardless of age or wisdom.

No binge drinking. Keep your average up even though students don’t care about theirs.

Go to church regularly. Pick one that claims attendance by the largest number of board members, legislators, college presidents, alumni and staff members.

Better yet, attend churches throughout the state to get a feel for the culture. In the North Dakota culture, everyone is as good as everyone else, even better sometimes. Going to church helps. Being bossy doesn’t, even though you are designated the boss.

Filing application

Send 374 copies of application to the following;

To Whom It May Concern

Board of Higher Education

State Capitol

Bismarck, ND 58505


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com