Omdahl: Measure 1 solves nothing in higher ed

Playing in the background we have an 80-year gripe by the Legislature against the board. It was created in the later 1930s after capitol politics threatened the professionalism of the institutions. Friends of higher education, primarily in Fargo, decided to initiate a constitutional amendment to remove the board from jurisdiction of the legislative and executive branches.

The constitutional status has frustrated the Legislature’s hopes of broadening its empire into higher education and has through the years proposed a number of meddling amendments, almost all of which have been defeated at the polls.

The board now has seven members. Measure 1 would add another seven for a board of 14; a size frowned upon by management companies that have studied the impact of board sizes on committee functions.

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So what are the sponsors expecting from doubling the size?

A larger board would permit broader representation which would be OK except the board is not supposed to be a representative assembly. It has administrative duties and policy issues with which to deal. However, if representativeness is the virtue sought, what new groups deserve seats? Would future appointments concern representativeness more than good judgment and wisdom of board candidates?

The board is already burdened with the parochial interests of the various institutions. The negotiators in every institution burn up the phone lines when the candidates for the board are announced, searching for clues about whether or not the candidates have grudges or favorites in the race.

Sometimes, politics inside and outside of the institutions obfuscate choices. It can be told now that Gov. George Sinner wanted to appoint a former Republican senator but lost it because of a mix of institutional and geographic politics. In my view, the ex-senator would have been a great choice.

A larger board would generate more opinions. In one respect, opinions can be valuable but it takes much longer for a 14-member board to discuss, evaluate and negotiate them than a 7-member board. In other words, board meetings will be much longer.

That is a liability because it is difficult to find good members who can afford to spend several days a month away from their jobs. Finding a total of 14 good members who could spend a whole week at monthly board meetings would be a challenge.

We have already had departures from the board due to the time requirements at regular board meetings and dealing with all of the issues that come up between meetings.

I sure would like to know what we are fixing with Measure 1. As I noted in a previous column, the board operates like any other board charged with similar duties. It doesn’t need structural repair. If all of these parochial interests would withdraw, the system would work better.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum’s editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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