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Grand Forks resident should be on state board

Later this year, the terms of two members of the state Board of Higher Education will end, creating a pair of vacancies. At least four residents of Grand Forks have an interest in filling those seats.

And soon, we’ll see Gov. Doug Burgum’s level of interest in using what we consider geographic fairness as a factor in filling those positions. Does he understand how important it is for Grand Forks — home of the state’s flagship university — to be represented on the board? Or will he shrug off the city and UND’s underrepresentation, as did former Gov. Jack Dalrymple?

Casey Ryan, Richard Glynn, Jonathan Sickler and Mary Stammen, all of Grand Forks, are among the applicants who seek to serve on the board. At first blush, all seem qualified.  

The deadline for applications was last week; the next step is for a nominating committee — led by state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler — to suggest three nominees for each opening on the board. With those nominations in hand, Burgum will make the final decision, although his choices are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

The two vacancies come July 1, when the terms of Kathleen Neset and Kari Reichert end. Both are eligible to be reappointed to new terms.

In the past, Grand Forks has been represented, but the city hasn’t had a member on the board since 2015. Yet the North Dakota Constitution says “the governor shall ensure that the board membership is maintained in a balanced and representative manner.”

We’ve complained about this in the past, but Dalrymple didn’t agree. We even were chastised by the editorial board of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which wrote that “the insulting assumption in the goofy scenario is that board members who come from Fargo or Grand Forks or wherever will sacrifice their responsibility to the system in favor of seeking goodies for NDSU or the University of North Dakota, or wherever their loyalties allegedly lie. That’s not the way a responsible board works.”

Fargo has two citizen representatives on the board, and the lone student seat is held by an NDSU student. Of course, Fargo residents don’t mind the way the system works.

The Herald’s thinking may be parochial, but The Forum’s is naive. Which is worse?

We don’t necessarily feel geographic loyalties will overcome “responsibility to the system,” but we do feel board members who are entrenched in a college town naturally will better understand issues related to that university. Social influence is a powerful phenomenon and whether board members, editorial writers or leaders of any kind want to admit it, it certainly exists.

Much of what we learn, and much of what forms our opinions, comes from what’s around us. Grand Forks should be represented on the board because Grand Forks residents, better than anyone else, understand what’s happening in our community and at the University of North Dakota.

The fairness we seek isn’t necessarily in how a Grand Forks-based board member would vote. Instead, the fairness we seek is based on the idea that a Grand Forks-based board member will have a better understanding of the issues, struggles and successes that are happening on UND’s campus. The board member will know these trends because that member obviously will know and hear things via regular interaction with stakeholders, leaders and everyday people in the community.

Remember: The North Dakota Constitution insists that the Board of Higher Education be “maintained in a balanced and representative manner.” Geography should be — and for generations past, has been — an obvious consideration, but for some reason, it’s not.

If the applicants are qualified — and in this case, it seems they are — then at least one of the Grand Forks candidates should be placed on the board.

As the Constitution says, that would be balanced, and it’s in a representative manner.

Most of all, it’s fair.

— Korrie Wenzel for the Herald