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Published August 07 2013

Forum editorial: Higher ed prepares to move on

As the North Dakota University System recovers from one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history, some observers suggest it will be difficult, if not impossible, to convince qualified people to serve on the state Board of Higher Education. Why, they ask, would anyone want to serve on a volunteer board that frequently is harshly criticized and occasionally held up to public ridicule?

Not so fast.

First, the higher ed board is a public board, and therefore subject to scrutiny and, when justified, criticism. North Dakotans who seek membership on the board know the spotlight comes with the territory. It is true that in the past year the spotlight has been unusually harsh. Circumstances warranted the critical reviews.

Second, board members serve because they want to preside over a university system that can be the best in the nation. They understand the vital role of the campuses in the state’s economy and cultural life. They respect the work of administrators, faculties and students.

Finally, the controversy over the job performance of former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani took on a life of its own in part because Shirvani was an autocratic one-man show. His conduct revealed not only disdain for anyone who disagreed with him but also disrespect for the board when members questioned his management methods.

Despite the beating the board took, the reality is that it did not take long to send Shirvani down the road. As negative reactions to the chancellor from lawmakers, educators and media piled up, the board conceded it had made a mistake, and then fixed it.

It does take a dedicated individual to serve on the higher ed board. It’s not a cushy resumé builder. North Dakotans have always stepped up. There always are more candidates than openings. Most of the time, qualified, committed people are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. Most of the time – not always.

Higher education is as important to North Dakotans today as it was a year ago when the chancellor dustup began. Good people will step forward to serve on the board. There will always be controversies to deal with, fires to put out. A good board will be ready to take on every unforeseen challenge. And as the last year demonstrates, the toughest ones are surprises.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.