What to do with MSU?

Andrew Varvel


Representative Louser has submitted House Concurrent Resolution 3021, a study resolution that recommends “that the Legislative Management consider studying the feasibility and desirability of privatizing Minot State University” and two other public colleges. If this resolution gets passed, I hope that the Legislative Management considers the option of turning these institutions into employee owned cooperatives rather than presuming that privatization must necessarily mean selling Minot State University to a for-profit corporation.

That said, I think there are better options for Minot State University.

As presently written, House Concurrent Resolution 3016 proposes a constitutional amendment that would delete references to locations of institutions of higher education in our state constitution. HCR 3016 uses the same language that got roundly rejected by North Dakota voters in 1998, and there is no reason to think that the result will be different this time around. Still, this resolution presents an excellent opportunity to make serious reform. Now is a good time to try something new.

I plan to recommend language that would amend HCR 3016 to the House Judiciary Committee. It would establish North Dakota University, with four listed major campuses and seven listed minor campuses. Statewide deans heading listed statewide faculties would report to an elected commissioner of higher education. This commissioner would be charged with working with the superintendent of public instruction to ensure a smooth transition for students, working with faculty to ensure high ethical standards and freedom of inquiry, and conducting negotiations for affiliation agreements with private colleges and tribal colleges.

This constitutional reform may appear to be a tall order, but consider the alternatives.

Governor Burgum’s proposed reforms to higher education would cement the Red River Valley’s domination of higher education. This would not only be against the long term interests of higher education in this state, but this would also be against long term interests of the Red River Valley that would be better served by regional equilibrium in higher education.

Senate Bill 2282 would be a wonderful idea of such regional equilibrium were established, but as written this fund would effectively limit research grant funding to UND and NDSU, cementing the Red River Valley’s domination of higher education. Given how strongly people from Minot resented Chancellor Shirvani’s proposals for higher education six years ago, the amendment to HCR 3016 that I have sent to the House Judiciary Committee represents perhaps the best hope North Dakota has for establishing regional equilibrium in higher education.

There are those who think our state constitution is already too long, and I agree with them.

This proposed amendment would cut our state constitution’s length by about three pages.

When I make my presentation to the House Judiciary Committee, I hope I will not be alone. I hope I will not be out on a limb. Let’s present a constructive alternative to the status quo.