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Dennis: Students lose if board goes away

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Battle lines haven’t yet formed for next year’s vote on whether to replace the North Dakota Board of Higher Education.

But once the campaigns get underway, here’s a strategy tip for the pro-board side:

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Mobilize the students.

Because if the eight-member board gets replaced by a three-member commission, students will lose their seat at one of the most important tables in the state.

These days, more than 71 percent of public colleges and universities have student members on their governing boards, the Association of Governing Boards reports.

North Dakota’s state board is one — for now. “The governor shall appoint as the eighth member of the board a full-time resident student in good academic standing at an institution under the jurisdiction of the state board,” the North Dakota Constitution declares.

But if the proposed amendment passes, students would lose that constitutional guarantee. There’s no provision for a student to be a member of the three-member commission that would replace the board.

During a conversation with policymakers in Fargo last week, North Dakota State University student leaders showed they’re already aware of the issue and sounded the alarm.

“Student leaders are also concerned they will lose their ability to contribute to policymaking and system governance if voters decide to replace the state Board of Higher Education with a three-member commission next fall,” Forum News Service reported.

“‘It’s kind of an elephant in the room,’ (student government commissioner Robert) Kringler said.

“Having a voting student member, who has ‘as much say as the president or any other board member’ is a powerful tool for students, he said.”

Kringler’s on to something. After all, why do so many university boards now have student members in the first place? Because students wanted, pressed for and have taken full advantage of the change. And now, they’re understandably protective of it.

Those North Dakotans who hope to keep the current governance structure no doubt will have other cards to play. But they shouldn’t neglect this one. College students in America are a potent force, and they’ve played a decisive role in our politics any number of times.

Dennis is the opinion editor of the Grand Forks Herald. Email him at tdennis@gfherald.com.

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