Terry Hjelmstad has been appointed chairman of the State Board of Higher Education after the former head stepped down earlier this month.

Hjelmstad, a retired administrator at Minot Public Schools, currently resides in Minot and has served on the board since 2011. He has been serving as the interim chair since former Chairwoman Kirsten Diederich stepped down earlier this month.

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At the board's meeting Thursday, Kathleen Neset was also appointed vice chairwoman. Neset has served on the board since 2012.

SBHE spokeswoman Linda Donlin said via email that while things change on a daily basis during the legislative session, the board approved recommendations to support and oppose a variety of higher education bills at the meeting.

A large portion of the meeting was spent discussing the bills, especially one that would give students the right to hire legal counsel or an advocate to represent them during disciplinary proceedings.

Senate Bill 2150, which the board decided to oppose as it was first introduced, is the result of a UND student who was accused of sexual assault in 2010 and later found to be innocent.

Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen said he and his staff are working on amendments to the bill to present at its next hearing.

"We don't oppose the concept, we oppose the bill as written," he said.

According to SBHE documents, there were 2,757 hearings combined last year at all 11 board institutions, so the group said they wanted the focus of the bill to be on bigger issues, such as sexual assault.

There were also concerns with federal student information privacy laws and whether the bill would be in conflict.

"It's my view that this legislation probably has some likelihood of making it through and if that's the case, regardless of our position, it's best to have a seat at the table to get the best amended version of the bill out there," board member Grant Shaft said.

The board supported bills that would freeze tuition for the 2015-2017 biennium at all SBHE institutions and keep student addresses, emails, and materials used to compile evaluations for university presidents exempt from open records requests.

The board opposed bills that would give lawmakers control over tuition and fees at universities, impose fines on those who break open meeting or records laws and require student IDs to include their date of birth, address and distribute information to students on voter eligibility requirements.

IT security issues

An IT security audit found holes in the system that officials are working to fix.

Erik Wallace of TeleCommunication Systems, the company that assisted in the audit, said while many of the problems pointed out in the audit had been addressed, there is always room to improve.

This comes after multiple data breaches in the last year, one of which left the personal information of more than 290,000 current and past NDUS students, staff and faculty vulnerable for four months.

"I would say the assessment from my perspective is about middle of the road in terms of what I would have expected from the colleges," Wallace said.

The audit recommended keeping operating systems and patches updated and using more complicated usernames and passwords. In October, the system implemented a policy of changing passwords more frequently.

Wallace also recommended more training on IT security, as "it only takes one person" to put a system at risk.

"We're not trying to get someone fired, we're not trying to identify the weakest link, we're trying to identify who needs training," he said.

The auditing team also provided each SBHE school with an individualized report, though the Herald's request for the one pertaining to UND was denied based on a state century code that protects the information.

Other business

The board also authorized UND to spend about $1.4 million on upgrades in the school's College of Engineering and Mines Building, Upson II. The money, which comes from engineering student fees, will go toward lab renovations and upgrades to the link that connects the building to Upson I.

Changes were also made to the Pathways to Student Success plan, the brainchild of former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani. The board has continued to make changes to the plan, which originally aimed to increase admission standards and push more students to two-year universities before transferring to the larger research universities, since they bought out Shirvani's contract in 2013.

The board approved allowing individual campuses to charge students additional fees for taking online courses as well as allowing out-of-state students to pay 150 percent of the resident tuition rate instead of the previously mandated 175 percent.

The topic could be discussed further depending on whether the legislative session results in any kind of tuition freeze.