BISMARCK — The full State Board of Higher Education will get its first look at proposed changes to its conflict of interest policy in the wake of a state audit critical of a North Dakota State College of Science leader.
The SBHE Governance Committee voted 2-1 to recommend the changes on Thursday, Oct. 17. The proposed changes, which must go to the full board next, clarify a 1993 policy, adding language that defines a conflict of interest, as well as what action must be taken in the event a board member or North Dakota University System employee has one.
State Auditor Josh Gallion recommended the SBHE update its conflict of interest policy after his office found Tony Grindberg, NDSCS vice president of workforce affairs, did not disclose on paper that his wife, Karen, is the chief financial officer for the Flint Group, which was hired to promote a proposed career workforce academy in Cass County. NDSCS has overseen the implementation of the academy.
The committee failed to pass changes to the policy at its last meeting, with committee members concerned that those who don’t know they have a conflict of interest could be punished. Committee member Dan Traynor, who is an attorney, also worried the policy would force board members or NDUS staff to break ethical obligations, such as revealing they are representing a client.
The policy the committee recommended Thursday addresses those concerns. Conflicts would have to be known under the proposed changes, and board members and staff would not be forced to violate ethical codes.
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In other news, the committee unanimously postponed action on a policy regarding political activities so NDUS staff could gather input from students.
Staff are working to amend the policy after students were photographed wearing NDUS institution uniforms while holding political signs in March 2016, according to a summary of the proposed changes. The matter has sparked discussion on how the university system can respect freedom of speech while remaining neutral on political issues.
Traynor said he wanted input from students before any changes were made to the policy.