UND paying an employee to commute from North Carolina is why our universities need close oversight

To hear certain apologists for North Dakota’s higher education system tell it, things would be glorious if it weren’t for the short-sighted rubes in the the Legislature and the general public holding things back with our ridiculous demands for efficiency and accountability.

If only we’d bow and scrape before the glorious vision of the university administrators things would be peachy.

In fact, some have even proposed we break up the State Board of Higher Education to give our state’s two largest schools their own personal boards so that the picayune business of the other nine public institutions of higher education doesn’t hold UND and NDSU back.

(Thankfully that particular proposal seems to have died an ignoble death in the Legislature.)

But then we get a story like the one I broke about University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy and his chief of staff, and suddenly it becomes very clear why these people have it all wrong.

Kennedy decided it would be a good idea to let his chief of staff, Angelique Foster, start working from home.

In Texas.

From there she will continue collecting her current $114,000 per year salary. On top of that, UND will pay up to $25,000 per year to have Foster commute to North Dakota on a regular basis.

A spokesman for the school estimated to me that these trips would probably cost about $1,000 per pop for things like air travel, accomodations, and a vehicle.

Said spokesman also insisted this was a good deal, because the university couldn’t possibly hire someone for this position for less than $185,000 per year.

The median household income in North Dakota is about $61,000 per year. Just to put some of these numbers into perspective.

North Dakota’s universities want more taxpayer dollars and less accountability, and their water carriers in political office and the media want to deliver that for them. They talk until they’re blue in the face about meddling lawmakers and philistine critics. Troublemakers who supposedly hate education.

All we critics want are universities which serve the academic and research needs of the state and its students and not the egos of overpaid administrators.

Or the whims of powerful alumni groups.

Or the parochial interests of local business groups.

Or the entertainment demands of sports fans.

Is that really too much to ask?

Apparently it is.

Regardless, what our public universities need is rigorous oversight.

We must resist the demands from those who insist these institutions, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the taxpayers every biennium, would operate better with less scrutiny.

It just isn’t so.

Imagine what would be happening on these campuses without it.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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