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Friday, September 02, 2011




Over the last few days, several issues involving Higher Education have developed due to an interim legislative committee hearing on Tuesday, August 30th. 


Separately these seem may seem to some to be minor issues, but when viewed together there seems to be a trend:  a systematic defiance of lawmakers.




Case #1 - Chancellor Attempts to Limit Scope of DSU Investigation


During the height of the Dickinson State University situation, Chancellor Bill Goetz announced that he would be handing off the investigation to the State Auditor's office.


This week, we found out that was not entirely true.  Chancellor Bill Goetz only requested that the one scholarship fund that was already known to have been abused be investigated.  Fortunately, the State Auditor has the prerogative to go beyond that request, and should.  But the greater 

Grant Shaft on DSU Investigation
Video:  Grant Shaft on DSU Investigation

question is "why even try to limit the scope of the investigation if there is nothing to hide?"


While these attempts to limit the scope of the investigation have been happening, more unnamed officials are being implicated in the scandal.




Case #2 - NDSU President Hoodwinks Legislators, State Board


Back in May, immediately after the legislative session concluded, you will

Video:  ND Board of Higher Ed on State Legislature & Tuition Hikes
Video: ND Board of Higher Ed on State Legislature & Tuition Hikes

recall that within the span of a week NDSU President Bresciani proposed and the State Board of Higher Education approved an 8.8% increase of tuition at NDSU.


This move came immediately after the close of the legislative session, and just a week after Chancellor Bill Goetz recommended that the Board of Higher Education impose a 2.5% cap on tuition growth.


Chancellor Goetz made that recommendation because he assured the legislature that a legislatively imposed cap was not required because he was going to make it happen himself.  Obviously it did not work out that way.


So, at this week's legislative committee meeting, several legislators spoke to the issue of being deceived with regard to the University System's intent to control their own tuition growth. 


As PlainsDaily.com reports:


Rep. Bob Martinson (R-Bismarck) told Bresciani that he had broken trust, and that in the future, legislators would no be so inclined to listen to the Board of Higher Education's promises.


"My issue here is credibility," said Martinson, noting that the

NDSU Pres Bresciani Before ND State Legislators
Video:  NDSU Pres Bresciani Before ND State Legislators

conference committee was going to add back in a House provision that froze tuition rates after the Senate had removed it. "But we were assured by people that there was no way that any campus would ask for more than the allocated 2.5% tuition." Given those assurances, the conference committee did not reinstate the legislative demand.


Martinson also called the SBHE to task for not taking more time to thoughtfully consider and evaluate Bresciani's tuition request. "I'm amazed that not one single board member said, 'What would you cut?' or 'Could we have a month to think about this?' or 'Could we review your cuts?'" Martinson commented. "I think you almost guaranteed yourself a freeze, and I have heard that some

Bresciani on NDSU Tuition & Funding Numbers
Video:  Bresciani on NDSU Tuition & Funding Numbers

people even want that at the special session."


Even State Senator Dave Nething (R-Jamestown) who is widely regarded as the biggest legislative advocate for the University System took issue with this apparent deception.


PlainsDaily.com has a 5 minute video of excerpts of this meeting.)




Case #3 - University System Ignores Student Fee Transparency Law


During the 2011 legislative session, a law was passed to limit the increases of student fees on college campuses, as well as posting the fees that currently exist on a website.


(Background: Student fees are generally the way that universities jack up the cost of education without increasing tuition.  To the student it doesn't matter which account the money goes to, but when the school increases revenue via student fees, they can make it appear as though tuition isn't increasing quite so fast, even when the cost to the student is increasing.)


SB 2351 requires that the amount and purpose of mandatory, program-specific, and optional-purpose fees at each institution be published on the North Dakota University System's website in an easily understood fashion that provides the ability to differentiate and compare them. It also limits mandatory fee increases to 1% of tuition during the 2011-2013 biennium, unless the school can demonstrate "extraordinary circumstances or student demand."


Many legislators at Tuesday's meeting were appalled at the fact the university system has decided to disregard the law, and has not been able to post simple facts about how much is being charged via student fees. 


From PlainsDaily.com:


Legislation passed this spring in an attempt to bring greater transparency and accountability to the North Dakota University System (NDUS) became a focus of attention at today's Higher Education Committee meeting, when legislation sponsor Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) asked when he could expect to see the fees posted up on the NDUS site.


Senator Schneider's question was prompted by a preceding comment by NDUS finance director Laura Glatt, when she stated that they were just beginning the process of developing an intuitive database with student input, and that "hopefully" those fees would be posted by the next legislative session.


"Excuse me," Senator Schneider asked, "isn't there some way to get these up sooner and not have it take two years to do?"


Several legislators agreed with him, and brought pressure on the NDUS to begin posting basic fees as soon as possible, then working to refine and enhance the system over time, adding in the myriad of specific course fees that exist within the universities. Glatt agreed to proceed with that course of action.


Having something up now - even if it is a long, laundry list of fees - is better than not having anything at all, said Schneider.


"We passed a bill that was of great concern to the legislature, to parents and students in this state," said Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch (R-Mandan), adding that she was "more than a little concerned" that nothing had been posted as of yet.


If the University System is ignoring the law on posting the fees online, are they going to ensure the law limiting fee increases is followed?




Case #4 - Board of Higher Education Leaders Publicly Attack Legislators


A few weeks ago, Duaine Espegard, Vice-President of the Board of  Higher Education called into a radio show being hosted by former Governor Ed Schafer and took the opportunity to attack State Senator Joe Miller and his calls for a larger investigation


More recently the President of the Board of Higher Education, Grant Shaft has taken to publicly excoriating House Majority Leader Al Carlson for his handling of the Fighting Sioux debacle.


Regardless of which side of the Fighting Sioux debate is the right side, the legislature is the policy making branch of government, and responsible for overseeing that those policies are followed. 


It is simply unprofessional for members of the Board of Higher Education to attack members of the legislature for ensuring their policies are followed and questioning the accountability of The Board. 






The Board of Higher Education is a separate branch of government under the North Dakota Constitution as Lloyd Omdahl likes to point out, but the legislature still makes the laws that The Board lives by.  And that very same legislature could put a measure on the ballot to ask the people to change how The Board is designed.


As the Bismarck Tribune pointed out a couple months ago:


The people of North Dakota cannot sustain higher education's continued spending at record levels. Nor will they continue to accept leadership by the board that fails to acknowledge that the North Dakota University System serves the people of the state, and not the other way around. 


The state Board of Higher Education needs to get its act together.


Board members need to assume they've been served notice that continuing to ignore good sense, and stubbornly ramming their agenda down the throats of lawmakers and citizens, will have serious consequences. Certain legislators will be willing to battle the board line-by-line on future funding if they believe voters have had enough of higher education's attitude.


It's time for a changed attitude on the part of higher education.


That change can either come internally or externally, and the way things are going, it will probably have to come from the outside.


Click here to email your elected representatives.


The last legislative session was not one punctuated with courage. Many tough decisions were avoided in the name of re-election.

Lynn Bergman on September 3, 2011 at 08:04 pm
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