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John Mitzel: Higher-ed accreditors owe N.D. an answer

John Mitzel

GRAND FORKS — In its Aug. 18 editorial, the Herald’s editorial board scolded North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, for dismissing the accreditation concerns raised by Measure 3 as a “red herring” (“Carlson wrong to dismiss accreditation concerns,” Page A4).

Rather than taking on the real issues surrounding Measure 3, the editorial board created a “red herring” of its own.

At the end of the day, Carlson’s opinion on accreditation doesn’t matter. Neither does the opinion of Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen, nor that of the State Board of Higher Education.

The Herald’s opinion doesn’t matter, and neither does mine.

The Higher Learning Commission is the only entity that has a meaningful say on the issue, and it is that organization’s silence that speaks the loudest.

Measure 3 earned its spot on the 2014 ballot as a result of House Concurrent Resolution 3047, which passed both chambers of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly in 2013. The HLC has had well over a year to condemn Measure 3. The commission has had well over a year to warn North Dakota voters and legislators of the impending disaster that awaits the North Dakota University System if Measure 3 is approved.

For some reason, the commission has not issued such a warning.

The only contribution it has made to the discussion was a quote by the then-HLC president Sylvia Manning stating that the legislation “raises questions” about whether our institutions would be in compliance with HLC requirements on governance.

That’s not the kind of statement that’s valuable to the public’s debate. It’s the kind of statement that places a cloud of uncertainty over a complex issue without offering any sort of guidance.

It’s the kind of statement that’s properly categorized as a “red herring.”

So, I’m taking this opportunity to challenge both the Higher Learning Commission and the Herald’s editorial board.

To the Higher Learning Commission: If Measure 3 will result in the loss of accreditation for North Dakota’s public colleges and universities, tell us. If it won’t, tell us.

Don’t play politics with the matter. Instead, issue a definitive statement and end the discussion.

To the editorial board, and for that matter, the rest of North Dakota’s media outlets: Ask the HLC the tough questions, and hold the organization accountable if it doesn’t answer. It’s what North Dakota voters deserve.

Until the day that the Higher Learning Commission acts on its moral obligation to settle the accreditation issue and enable voters to have an informed debate over Measure 3, we don’t have any reason to believe that the accreditation issue is anything more than the “red herring” that Carlson described.

Mitzel is a UND student majoring in banking and financial economics.