There’s a lot of interest in a task force Gov. Doug Burgum is forming to study governance of public colleges and universities. The governor’s office has received 234 applicants for the 15-member committee.

That reflects widespread interest in higher education in North Dakota, which is good. The applicants are no doubt motivated by a variety of reasons, but they should share one goal: improving education in the state. Burgum has stressed the committee will look at governance, not at eliminating any of the state’s colleges or universities. The state Board of Higher Education has passed a resolution asking Burgum to allow them representation on the task force.

That’s a reasonable request. The task force will need feedback from those who have been working closely on higher education issues for the last few years. Burgum has indicated the board will be included in the task force's work. Three members of the board have applied to be on the task force: board chairman Don Morton, a retired Microsoft executive from Fargo; Greg Stemen, branch manager of First Community Credit Union in Oakes; and Kevin Melicher, an optometrist.

If one of the board members isn’t appointed to the task force then at least one should be named an adviser to the group. The task force needs to tap into their knowledge. It’s going to be a challenge for the task force to accomplish the work ahead.

Burgum will be reviewing the large pool of applicants this month and hopes to convene the first meeting later this month or in early January, according to Mike Nowatzki, Burgum’s communications director. When the first meeting is held will be dependent on the availability of the members he selects.

He wants the task force to develop proposals for the 2019 Legislature, which convenes in a little over a year. That’s not a lot of time to hold meetings, gather information and develop proposals.

The task force will hear from a lot of people with different agendas. Administrators, faculty, students, parents and legislators will no doubt offer conflicting suggestions. Coming up with creative and workable proposals and getting them through the Legislature will be a daunting task. We need a system of higher education governance that’s open, effective and has the confidence of the public.

It’s a tough job that needs to be tackled.

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