Resolution reprises 1998 higher ed measure to change state constitutionBISMARCK — Lawmakers are discussing a resolution that would let voters decide to change and delete language in the state constitution about the North Dakota’s public universities.
By: TJ Jerke, Forum News Service
BISMARCK — Lawmakers are discussing a resolution that would let voters decide to change and delete language in the state constitution about the North Dakota’s public universities.
House Concurrent Resolution 3008, heard Wednesday in front of the House Judiciary Committee, proposes to take out the old names and missions of the eight universities that existed when the State Board of Higher Education was created under the constitution in 1938. Those schools would be included, with their updated names, plus three more recently created institutions, in an amendment to the constitution. The amendment would name all 11 as being under the authority of the State Board of Higher Education.
The resolution is similar to a resolution that failed in a statewide vote in 1998. If passed, the issue would again go to a statewide vote.
The concern is three schools are not currently included in the constitution — Lake Region State College in Devils Lakes, Williston State College and Bismarck State College — and those that are may be violating the mission set forth for each school in the constitution.
The constitution refers to the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton as, “the school of science,” which also provides degrees in business and Dakota College at Bottineau is considered, “the school of forestry,” yet offers an accounting degree.
The University of North Dakota as “the state university and school of mines,” and North Dakota State University is not referred to as a university, but, “the state agricultural college and experimentation station.”
The original language was put into the constitution by an initiated measure in 1938 after then Gov. William Langer attempted to take control over North Dakota Agricultural College, now NDSU.
Lawmakers from Bismarck are pushing the effort so BSC is included in the constitution.
“I would want my name in there because that’s my only protection from being closed down,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck.
The constitution also refers to the state hospital in Jamestown as “a state hospital for the insane.” The resolution calls to amend “insane” to mentally ill.
Proponents say a yes vote by North Dakota voters would keep each individual school from violating the constitution, which, as pointed out, could easily draw a lawsuit, and it would allow more flexibility for services among the campuses and Board of Higher Education.
Opponents say it isn’t necessary since schools already retain a large portion of flexibility and there are no issues about the current process.
Chancellor Hamid Shirvani didn’t take sides, but offered an amendment to the resolution to make it clear the SBHE has the authority over the universities.
His concern was the resolution could be perceived as providing the ability to close or consolidate a school by removing them from the constitution, and also wanted to make sure the SBHE maintains its administrative privileges over the higher education institutions.
“I want to make sure the SBHE authority doesn’t get chipped away,” he said.
Rep. Andrew Maragos. R-Minot, stood in resounding opposition to the bill, pointing to the 1998 vote that was defeated that would have cleaned up the constitution as the bill aims to do.
“What has changed to make you think we could pass this?” he asked.
Dosch said growing population, a growing budget for higher education and concern by many about rising costs of attending are contributing factors.
“I have to believe it’s time to clean it up and make it more a pertinent issue,” he said. “If you interpret strictly the constitution, the majority of institutions are operating outside the guise of the constitution.”
The North Dakota Student Association, represented by Johan Mahlum, a student at UND, said the proposed resolution would hinder economic activity at each school.