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Support mixed for proposed changes to ND higher ed board model

University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott

GRAND FORKS -- The recommendation to split North Dakota’s higher education governance into three boards is receiving mixed support from legislators and higher education officials.

Members of Gov. Doug Burgum’s Higher Education Task Force voted to advance the concept of a three-board governance model for the state’s 11 colleges and universities on Tuesday, Nov. 13., after almost 10 months of discussions and meetings.

Under the recommended model, one board would govern the state’s nine regional and community institutions: Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University, Lake Region State College, Mayville State University, Minot State University, North Dakota State College of Science, Valley City State University and Williston State College.

The state’s two research universities – North Dakota State University  and the University of North Dakota – would each have its own governing board.

Several different types of board models were considered as a part of the task force meetings, University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said. The idea to keep the current one-board model with some modifications was never voted down, Hagerott noted.

Hagerott said he believes the current board and the system as a whole have been very successful, but some tweaks to the board may be beneficial.

Hagerott said it is important for people to consider what the fragmented board system would do to system unity and collaboration, especially if UND and NDSU had their own separate boards.

“There are definitely benefits for having a unified system for a small state,” he said.

Ultimately, he would be supportive of whatever the Legislature or the voters choose to do, Hagerott said.

Under the recommended three-board model, the community and regional institutions would have a 14-member board with 11 voting members. The three, non-voting spots would represent faculty, staff and the Department of Public Instruction.

The research universities would each have a 12-member board with nine voting members and three non-voting members of similar representation.

Each board would have one full-time student as a voting member.

Any change to the board model would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment.

The higher education governance structure has remained largely unchanged since 1938.

SBHE chair Don Morton, who was a part of the task force, said the move to go to a three-board system would give university and college presidents “more autonomy.” The new model also allows the board to have an increased focus on the schools’ different needs.

“I think this is going to be a good step. I think it’ll be easier to attract board members when they’re really specialized to one section of higher ed,” he said.

Morton said the committee met almost monthly and noted that the whole process was quite “positive” overall. He credited committee members, Burgum and Burgum’s staff for their work on the project.

Meloney Linder, vice president of marketing and communications at UND, said UND did not have a comment on the task force’s recommendation.

“For us, we want to have flexibility so that we’re able to stay nimble to respond to the changing nature of higher education,” she said.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani “appreciates the work of the Task Force and looks forward to the state’s continued conversation,” Laura McDaniel, associate vice president for university relations said in an email Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said he needs to learn more about the proposal, but he wants to make sure that it improves education and doesn't "create additional layers of bureaucracy."

State Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, who has chaired the interim Higher Education Committee, called himself "kind of a traditionalist when it comes to the constitution."

"There ought to be a lot of good data supporting (the change)," Sanford said. "I would have to have the advantages explained to me, because I'm not really seeing them."

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he needs "to understand why NDSU and UND are not one board."

"I'm willing to find out, and listen and see what the reasons are," he said.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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