Higher ed board members could be seeing less of each other
By DAVE KOLPACK
Oct. 22, 2017
FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A proposal by the North Dakota Board of Higher Education that would cut down on the number of face-to-face meetings and take those gatherings off the campuses is being criticized by college professors and others.
The board next month will approve meeting plans for 2018. Board chairman Don Morton, who as leader of the group sets the meeting schedule, is proposing that the board come together four times a year in Bismarck. Other regularly scheduled meetings would be held via video network.
"I want to be cognizant of board time," said Morton, a former executive at Microsoft in Fargo. "I happen to be retired. Most of the board members have full-time jobs. They all understand the commitment to public service but we can also be respectful of their time and still do what's right for higher education."
For years the board has rotated its meetings among the 11 colleges and universities, a practice that the leader of a faculty group is hoping will continue. Dickinson State University professor Debora Dragseth, president of the state Council of College Faculties, said board members should be honored to sit on the board and ready for the commitment that comes with it.
"There are 45,000 students, 12,000 employees, a more than $600 million budget, and there's probably well over $1 billion in physical assets that they're responsible for," Dragseth said. "And they're talking about four days a year in Bismarck? I question if that's enough of a commitment."
Dragseth and Jack McDonald, attorney for the North Dakota Newspaper Association, say they're worried the board is setting a trend of being less transparent and collaborative.
"Fewer meetings means there will be fewer opportunities for the public to know what's going on," McDonald said. "I think it's a dangerous precedent for public information. The Board of Higher Education, I think in most people's minds that follow state government, that is probably one of the most important if not the premier board in the state."
Mike Nowatzki, spokesman for Gov. Doug Burgum, said moving to quarterly meetings is a board decision and the governor does not have an opinion about it. The governor appoints members to the board.
Morton said there's value in face-to-face meetings but "there's nothing magical" about holding them every month. He said meetings in Dickinson and Williston require a day to get there, a day to attend the meeting and a day to drive back.
"You are taking a lot of people, particularly the presidents and provosts, away from their campuses," Morton said.
North Dakota University System spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said a call-in feature is available for people to participate in any meeting, whether the event is face-to-face or on video. The agenda always includes time for public comments, usually at the end of the meetings.
Morton said he has talked to presidents and campus leaders at every school about the proposal. He said a vast majority of them want the quarterly face-to-face meetings and a majority of them favor Bismarck as the location.
Since the board would not be going to the campuses, the plan is to fund trips for each new member to visit all 11 schools within the first year or so. Morton said board member Dr. Casey Ryan, of Grand Forks, did that after he was appointed this year and "it was wildly successful."