Task force recommends 3 separate boards for higher education governance

Nov 14, 2018

Gov. Doug Burgum (center) makes a point to the Task Force on Higher Education Governance meeting in Bismarck Tuesday.
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

Governor Burgum’s Task Force for Higher Education Governance is recommending the current 8-member Board of Higher Education be replaced by three governing boards.

Under the proposal, UND and NDSU would each have a board, and the rest of the two and four year schools would be governed by a third board.

After discussing proposals for two, three, and four board systems, the Task Force agreed to recommend three boards – with only one dissenting vote.  But there is broad agreement among task force members about the need for change.

"We had a 15-to-0 vote in support of, we should do something different than what we're doing today," said Gov. Doug Burgum after the meeting to Bismarck reporters.

Burgum said things have changed – since the current board was created in the 1930s, in response to then-Gov. William Langer firing faculty members at NDSU.

"When the system was created, there were 7000 students at 8 institutions, including Ellendale," Burgum said. "Now we have over 40,000 students across 11 campuses. And there's way more complexity, and that makes it almost impossible for the current board to manage effectively."

After debating whether there should be two, three or four separate boards, it was decided the three board model would be forwarded to the 2019 Legislature.

Task force member Jonathan Sickler of Grand Forks said the rationale for change has to be laid out for lawmakers.

"What's wrong with the current system?" Sickler said. "Any change is going to have to have discussion about why we are changing."

As to what’s wrong with the current system, Sickler said the University System has a small, underfunded central office, and what he called a “weak” Chancellor system. He also said the current 8 member board is overworked.

"When you have so many campuses, and the responsibility is spread so broadly, it doesn't seem like the board gets the opportunity to get into any strategic discussions as much as they would otherwise," Sickler said.

The next step is to have the Legislature approve it – and because it is a Constitutional change, it would go to the 2020 election. But Senate Minority Leader Joan Hecakaman from New Rockford told the task force it will take some work to get lawmakers behind the plan.

"I think whatever model we pick will work," Heckaman said. "I just don't know if we're going to have enough support from the Legislature to go through. If they don't, we're stuck again."