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North Dakota higher education leaders want seat on task force board

File photo of then-North Dakota State Board of Higher Education chair Kathy Neset, left, and vice chair Don Morton, center, and university system Chancellor Mark Hagerott at a meeting last year in Bismarck. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — Leaders of the North Dakota higher education system passed a resolution asking Gov. Doug Burgum to allow them representation on the governor's task force that will study governance of public colleges and universities.

The State Board of Higher Education on Thursday, Nov. 30, unanimously passed the resolution, which one member said would not necessarily mean voting representation on the 15-member task force, whose members Burgum has yet to name.

Meanwhile, three board members have applied to be members of the task force: Chairman Don Morton, a retired Microsoft executive from Fargo; Greg Stemen, branch manager of First Community Credit Union in Oakes; and Kevin Melicher, an optometrist and former Fargo School Board member.

Morton said he already had asked Burgum to allow board representation on the task force, and said he understands the group might start meeting in December with a focus on how to best govern the state's 11 colleges and universities, which have a combined enrollment of 45,000 students.

"This is not a task force to look at closing campuses," Morton said, citing clarifying statements Burgum has made. "It's about governance."

Before passing the resolution, board members said they welcome the task force study, but said it is important that they have a seat at the table to provide input.

"We need to have some representation," said board member Casey Ryan, a Grand Forks physician, adding that it could be as a liaison, if not a voting member of the task force.

"I'd be surprised if we don't," said Morton, who once worked with Burgum at Microsoft.

A spokesman for the governor said the board will be included in the task force's work.

"Gov. Burgum agrees the State Board of Higher Education needs to be a part of this process, and he appreciates their resolution," Mike Nowatzki, the governor's communications director, said in an email.

Burgum, a former software executive and real estate developer in Fargo, has said the state's higher education system must be managed nimbly to respond to changes, many of them driven by advancing technology, in order to provide a workforce with necessary skills and to run the system as efficiently as possible.

In other matters, board members approved a new policy meant to give campuses greater flexibility in distributing royalties earned from university researchers' innovations. The change was requested by North Dakota State University and would enable universities to set a sliding scale for sharing royalties with inventors or plant breeders.

Under current policy, researchers can keep up to 40 percent of earnings from their intellectual property. Under the new policy, passed unanimously, researchers would keep at least 30 percent.

At NDSU, research royalties over the past decade have earned almost $19.8 million, with $3.6 million going to researchers, mostly plant breeders and their collaborators who developed new crop varieties.

Board members also unanimously approved a slate of deferred maintenance projects at NDSU totaling $4.9 million: $675,000 in repairs for Walster Hall, $1.7 million for a new roof for the Quentin Burdick Building, $1 million for sewer, water and street upgrades of a portion of Administration Avenue, $1.2 million for renovated lavatories at Johnson Hall, a men's residence hall, and $365,000 for roof replacement at Memorial Union.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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