Other Views: Don’t close chancellor discussion
The cool reception that greeted a bill to close state Board of Higher Education discussions about hiring and firing the North Dakota University System chancellor was justified, even if a few of the chilly legislators were merely indulging their c...
The cool reception that greeted a bill to close state Board of Higher Education discussions about hiring and firing the North Dakota University System chancellor was justified, even if a few of the chilly legislators were merely indulging their chronic higher ed animosity. That absurd behavior aside, the Senate-approved bill, now in a House committee, would set a bad precedent at a time when higher education needs more sunlight, not less.
The board requested closing chancellor discussions to public and media. The rationale is that consideration of a new hire, or of firing a chancellor, would be more candid and complete without public scrutiny. That’s not good enough.
Chancellor is one of the most important public jobs in the state. Hiring and firing should not be done in the dark. It might be the board is smarting because of its dismal record on hiring and firing the last chancellor, Hamid Shirvani. Not only did the board hire the wrong man after failing due diligence, board members, several of whom are now off the board, defended their hire until it was clear to everyone but them that he could not function effectively. So they cut him loose with an outrageously generous severance package.
That sorry episode has little to do with the substance of keeping chancellor debates open and transparent. The system is sound.
The recent failures - the fired chancellor, a string of open meetings violations - were mistakes and missteps made by people in the system. Get better people, and the system will work better. That was the message from voters on the ill-conceived attempt by the Legislature to restructure the system with a ballot constitutional measure. It was soundly beaten back, an indication North Dakotans understand the value of the system, even when it’s managed badly.
That recent measure of voter sentiment should resonate with the current board, although the attempt to close chancellor hiring discussions suggests some board members are clueless.
The North Dakota Senate approved the close-the-doors bill on a lopsided vote. That was a mistake. The House, which has been less friendly to higher education than the Senate, should reject the bill, even if some representatives do so for the wrong reasons.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.