Breaking News, Breaking Faith?

Mar 27th, 2006 @ 3:21 pm | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
Yesterday's Fargo Forum contained an editorial saying that, "There is justified concern on campuses that a new regime in the University System offices favors a more autocratic, more top-down style of administration than the roundtable's very successful doctrine of campus flexibility and accountability." I disagree, and I am not alone.

The editorial also said, "If a change of personnel in the University System's office in Bismarck is a factor causing Kupchella and Chapman to look for work elsewhere, then the progress UND and NDSU have made under those presidents is at risk." The editorial strongly implies that Chancellor Robert Potts favors an autocratic, micromanaging approach to the university system. If that were the case, I would support the editorial's inference that a new approach is needed.

The editorial correctly points out that nearly all campuses have made great strides toward the Roundtable's vision of higher education as an engine for growth for North Dakota. It properly gives some of the credit to an increase in flexibility from state micromanagement. There is a threat to further achievement, but it comes from another source.

First, the current Chancellor is no more autocratic than his predecessor – an argument could be made for the reverse. Second, the balance between flexibility and control is an age-old dynamic that will always cause presidents and chancellors to spar. We presidents do not even agree among ourselves.

The real threat to further achievement of the Roundtable vision can be put in either of two ways. First, it's lack of adequate funding. Alternatively, political battles over power and control could fragment and weaken the university system while distracting everyone from the task of getting an adequate level of funding for the campuses. Any way you slice it, the threat is lack of adequate funding.

Lack of adequate funding is a fact (North Dakota's universities have 46 cents for every dollar at our counterpart institutions in other states), it is a unifying focus for all campuses, it is a failure to invest in North Dakota's future, and it is unconstitutional. It is the underlying factor in nearly every disagreement within the university system and an injustice to North Dakota's students and their families.

Last Wednesday, ten of the university system presidents held their first meeting in decades without a system staff member present. President Chapman was out of state but had every opportunity to participate in other ways. We had a very frank and constructive discussion that led to a written statement delivered to the Board at their special meeting in Dickinson today.

The message from the presidents asks for a unified system of the kind the Board committed to in writing two years ago, and for the Board to be proactive and aggressive in seeking adequate funding. Higher education is at a crossroads, as the Forum stated, but the presidents believe that the best road is toward a unified system and adequate funding.