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Published August 28 2013

Forum editorial: Higher ed negotiates transition

One of the concerns about hiring an interim chancellor for the North Dakota University System was that good candidates would not apply because of the turmoil in higher ed. That was a possibility.

But the more plausible reason the candidate pool was not as deep as it might have been is the future of the university system hangs on a November 2014 ballot measure that would radically restructure higher education. If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment would replace the Board of Higher Education with a three-person full-time commission. The members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

That being said, four of the six interim chancellor candidates selected from a field of 16 hopefuls have higher education credentials and experience to do the job. The importance of higher ed experience cannot be minimized. It makes sense for a chancellor, even an interim, to be well-versed in the campus culture and administrative challenges of a university system. It’s more than a management job. It’s more than a political appointment. It’s more than public relations.

In the longer term, the greater threat to academic achievement, business involvement and research prowess on the campuses is legislative obtuseness. A small but vocal cabal of lawmakers seems intent on undermining progress the schools have made in the past decade. By focusing on the petty, they pursue what come off as personal vendettas. Their behavior denigrates the broader higher education picture, which by and large is positive. They seem to be of the opinion that education progress means adding another room to a one-room schoolhouse.

The interim chancellor’s work will be pivotal in strengthening the system’s academic and research capacity, and in forging a newly energized relationship with the state’s booming private sector. As those processes evolve, obsession with the poisonous politics of debasement – as practiced by a handful of lawmakers – will fade.

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