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233 people apply to be on ND governor's higher ed task force

Gov. Doug Burgum presents his vision of challenges and opportunities facing the North Dakota University System in the face of technological disruptions. He spoke to an interim legislative committee meeting at North Dakota State University on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. Patrick Springer / The Forum

FARGO—More than 200 people, many with strong ties to public higher education, have applied for positions on Gov. Doug Burgum's task force to study governance of the North Dakota University System.

The governor's office received 233 applications by the filing deadline, midnight on Thursday, Nov. 30, and now the governor's staff must review the applicants so the governor can name the 15-member task force.

"It shows the intense interest in higher education in North Dakota," said Mike Nowatzki, Burgum's communications director. The governor hopes the task force can start working later this month or in January on recommendations that will be presented to legislators in time for the 2019 legislative session.

Applicants include Josh Gallion, state auditor; Jim Roers, principal at Roers Companies and a state senator in Fargo; Tim Flakoll, a former Fargo state senator who heads the Tri-College University; Thomas Erickson, who heads the Energy and Environment Research Center at the University of North Dakota; and Rae Ann Kelsch, a former legislator who now is a consultant in Mandan.

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Interest in serving on the task force seems especially high at North Dakota State University, but applicants came from many state campuses, as well as some with ties to private higher education, elementary and secondary education, as well as business.

Matt Noah, a senior project manager in the electrical engineering department at NDSU, said he applied because he thought his experience in the private sector as well as at the university could be helpful.

A recent Harvard study predicted that half of the nation's universities won't be around in 15 years, Noah said. He agrees with Burgum that traditional universities face growing threats from a variety of trends, including online education.

"I think generally people are afraid of change," he said. "But change is coming. The marketplace is going to dictate that change." The question is, Noah added, whether the state's university system will be able to adapt.

Prakash Mathew, who was vice president for student affairs at NDSU from 2006 to 2014, and later served as interim athletic director, said he would be a community representative, if chosen.

During his decades in North Dakota and NDSU, Mathew has seen lots of changes in the state's university system.

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"I have seen the commission model to the chancellor model and I know the issues," he said. He also was an observer of the higher education roundtable, which brought together representatives from universities, K-12 education and business to forge a consensus for higher education years ago.

"There is some foundation for us to reach back and dig in," Mathew said. He expects the task force will grapple with a variety of issues: "Do we have the right model? Do we have the right organization? Do we have the right people?"

Another applicant, Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, also mentioned the roundtable discussion as an example of how North Dakotan came together and forged a clear path for the university system.

A graduate of NDSU, in both undergraduate and graduate programs, Boschee said he was involved in student government around the time of the roundtable.

"I think we definitely knew where we were heading," he said, referring to the years after the roundtable consensus. "The campuses were on board with that effort." The state now has an opportunity to achieve the same result with the governor's task force, Boschee said.

As state auditor, Gallion said his office routinely makes recommendations to improve state government, which matches the task force's mission.

"I think there should be an auditor on the committee, so I threw my hat in the ring," he said.

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Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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