Changes will lead to failure

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo; Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot; Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks

Last fall, the State Board of Higher Education approved chancellor-sponsored policy changes that go well beyond the boundaries of good governance. The new policies turn university and college presidents into underlings who risk termination with 30 days notice for no reason at all.

In a single package, the revisions:

– Require presidents to confer with the chancellor on all undefined “decisions of mutual interest” before making or announcing a decision;

– Assign presidents the role of “implementation and operational control” to “manage their institution on a day to day operational basis;”

– Make 10 major functions “system-level services,” again undefined but potentially centralizing all of these functions and personnel at the system level;

– Give the chancellor license to conduct presidential searches any way he wants to;

– Allow the chancellor to present only one presidential candidate for board approval; and

– Allow for a three-year contract for new presidents but only year-to-year contracts after that, including “written notice of not less than 30 days of termination of the appointment” (in effect, a 30-day contract).

The policy changes treat highly competent, entrepreneurial and dedicated leaders as robots. They deprive each institution of the leadership it requires. They prevent the presidents from being partners in providing leadership for state and local issues. They set the stage for arbitrary and capricious actions that will derail or destroy the careers of highly competent professionals. Anecdotes suggest that the attitude in these policies is evident on a daily basis. Seek new presidents for NDUS campuses under these policies and we will not attract anyone who even aspires to be a leader, let alone anyone with leadership experience.

The structure of the State Board of Higher Education and the University System itself are quite comparable to most other public university systems. The problem is not the structure. Most current members of the SBHE have less than two years of experience on the board. It appears that the board has not taken governance education seriously members may not realize that governance has best practices, pitfalls, grave responsibilities, and tools with which to undertake those responsibilities effectively.

The board has a fiduciary responsibility to hold the colleges and universities in trust for the people of North Dakota. That requires a strong and effective board, chancellor, and presidents working in concert and all driven by the best interests of students and the state. The system does not generate a single credit hour it is meaningless without strong institutions. The system is the institutions. And the institutions are too complex and diverse to be run unilaterally by one person. The role of the system office is to support, challenge, and engage the campuses in their mutual endeavors and to ensure effective leadership at the campus level. The current course is a road to failure and does not represent the views of thousands of North Dakotans who expect nothing but the best for our students.

The board needs to take immediate decisive action to reverse recent policy changes and appoint a chancellor who has a solid proven record of effective trusted and respected leadership.