The conversation concerning the higher education governance structure continued last week in the Senate. This all started with the Governor's Task Force for Higher Education Governances with the idea of studying other types of governances and to suggest improvements for the people's consideration in the 2020 general election. Our current structure is in our state's constitution and change would need approval by a vote of the people.
The task force consisted of 15 members, met 10 times during 2018 and did suggest a change for the 66th legislative session to consider. Looking at what other states do, they found that nine have a single system like ours, 13 have multiple higher education governance systems, 11 have a separate governing board for each of their senior institutions and the rest have a combination of the structures.
What House Bill 1500 suggested as the change in higher education governance was to go to a two-board system with one 12-member board for North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota and one 10-member board for the rest of our universities. This will drive greater numbers of qualified candidates to apply to serve on these two mission-focused boards and will allow these boards to hold their presidents directly accountable to the needs of the state. Members can dive deeper into the workings of each institution and use data and metrics to hold institutional leadership accountable to taxpayers.
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HB1500 also allowed for some board members to be from outside North Dakota and allowed for more student membership on the boards.
This idea was not accepted well in the House and was defeated by a 17-74 vote. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner thought that more work was needed on this and introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 4016 to increase the one board that we have to 11 members. In the Senate Education Committee, the recurring issue seemed to be the biggest problem of our current structure: The task of being a board member on the State Board of Higher Education is so demanding and they simply do not have the expertise or time to cover the spectrum of campus missions and offerings. What SCR4016 does is increase the board membership to 15, with the idea that the board would be large enough to divide into subcommittees that could do the deep dive into the demanding needs of our diverse university system. The other idea that appealed to the Senate Education Committee was that even though a subcommittee could specialize or focus on a certain type of university, the work still needed to come back to a full board for approval or recommendation to protect the idea that the board is there to keep the interests of students and the state as a whole, and not that of one university, city or area.
This conversation is long from over and 4016 is still rather vague, but if this concept finds favor with the House, the details can be worked out in conference committee and then forwarded to the people in the 2020 general election.