Debate over colleges, universities in constitution worth having

There might not be a better idea than to have North Dakota colleges and universities enshrined in the state constitution.

Or there might be considerable better ideas that permit more flexibility, perhaps consolidation to avoid repetition, greater efficiency and cost savings.

North Dakotans won’t know unless there is a healthy discussion about the possibility.

House Concurrent Resolution 3016 proposes to remove the eight institutions, including Minot State University, listed in the constitution. If passed by the Legislature, it would go on the ballot, where voters previously rejected the idea in 1997.

Minot Daily News senior reporter Jill Schramm wrote on the issue on March 10. Read the entire story at from-constitution-among-measures-for-voters/.

“Part of the reason for wanting to do it is to give flexibility to higher education,” Sen. Karen Krebsbach said in the story. “I have mixed emotions on it. I really do, and I’m going to wait to hear whatever testimony comes before I decide.”

Krebsbach has the right idea – listen to both sides of what is certain to be debate and make a decision then. There are bound to be passionate debates on both sides of the issue. This is an uncommon aspect of a state constitution, but it also one about which there are strong feelings – and voters have previously rejected the idea.

Rep. Dan Ruby said he voted for HCR 3016 before it passed over to the Senate because of the flexibility. Since voters last weighed in on a measure, the structure of learning has changed, he said.

“Is there a possibility that some could get closed or merged? That’s a possibility. Nobody has any target on any one university and nobody is trying to dictate how that’s going to go, but it would give the board of education that freedom and flexibility,” he said in Sunday’s story.

The keys will be the rationale espoused in discussion of the issue and in the details, particularly the latter. Would any change be handled in a fair manner? What would be the impact on smaller towns and cities in which the constitutionally referenced schools are prime economic generators? Should the latter even be a consideration in the 21st century?

There’s plenty to take into consideration. Let’s hope the Legislature does just that.