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Resist politicizing higher ed

Published: Mon, March 11, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

The Forum, Fargo, N.D.: Legislators should be cautious about approving two — or even one — constitutional amendments for the ballot that could destroy the necessary independence of the North Dakota University System.

Two proposals making their way through the Legislature would, in one form or another, eliminate the state Board of Higher Education and replace it with politically appointed or elected regents, directors and a chancellor. The political component in higher education is the risk.The initiatives are facades for what in practice would be a historic re-politicizing of higher education. Of course, politics as practiced by legislators is part of the higher ed equation. That cannot be avoided. But the buffer of the state board tends to blunt the negative effects of lawmakers’ political machinations, which often masquerade as “oversight.”

The board was established in 1938 as a response to over-the-top political interference in the operations, faculty rights and curricula at state universities and colleges. Displaying vision and wisdom seldom seen together in state government and among voters, a higher education board was enshrined in the constitution — a mechanism to protect the schools from the vagaries and parochialism of partisan politics. It worked, imperfectly of course, but far better than clumsy and often destructive micromanagement by the Legislature

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