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Tuesday, March 05, 2013


The battle in North Dakota’s university system has entered “The Theatre of the Absurd”.

Late in February, the North Dakota Student Association (NDSA) took a vote of “no confidence” against university system Chancellor Ham Shirvani.  

One might wonder why it matters what the NDSA has to say.  To understand that requires one to understand that the NDSA is essentially a group of college students that generally brown-nose their way into cushy internships with the governor or a senator.  Furthermore, NDSA has historically been a puppet organization, controlled by the college presidents at each of North Dakota’s campuses.

Combine this with the effort in the State Senate (which took a 2nd attempt to pass) to appropriate $800,000 to buy-out Shirvani and it is becoming pretty clear that, while Ham Shirvani may not be the smoothest operator when it comes to navigating the internal politics of North Dakota’s higher education community, there is a concerted effort to make him the scapegoat.  

Legislators and college presidents don’t seem to like the fact that Shirvani does not want to play their game, but frankly, why should he?  Campus politics is more like material for reality tv or a soap opera than it is the stuff of highly educated professors.  The internal squabbles and bickering are nothing to be proud of; kudos to Shirvani if his refusal to entertain “drama-queen aspects” of campus life is why people don’t like him.

Ham Shirvani is a guy that the Board of Higher Education hired, out of the California system, to come here and “fix” things.  In fact, the Board of Higher Education’s decision to hire anybody out of California should be looked at as a sign of poor judgment considering California is basically a failed state. (The Guardian newspaper out of the UK has called California “America’s First Failed State” for the last several years.)

It’s become pretty clear to be that the best way to solve the problems in higher education is to unify both K-12 and Higher Education into a system of governance that creates direct representation of the public, as well as representation of the legislative and executive branches which approve the appropriations that fund such a unified system.

Here’s what the legislature should look at: create a three-member Education Commission that is comprised of the currently elected Superintendent of Public Education, a new (elected) Commissioner of Higher Education, and a third commissioner appointed by the governor and confirmed by both chambers of the legislature.  (This plan would eliminate the board of higher education, and require a constitutional measure to be approved by the voters.)

Such a structure would give the legislature and the governor a voice in how K-12 and Higher Ed operates beyond just cutting the check, and it would give the voters a way to hold two elected officials directly responsible for making education in North Dakota work for parents, students, taxpayers, employers, and the state as a whole.

And shouldn’t that be the real goal anyway? 

Click here to email your elected representatives.


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