Members of the State Board of Higher Education denied a motion put forth by one member to be given access to recordings of executive sessions, going back for a period of two years.

At the Board’s meeting on Thursday, Sept. 30, Jeffry Volk, a new board member, said that listening to previous executive sessions would help him get acquainted with serving on the board, and would help him learn how the board makes decisions “not only in a public setting but also in executive session settings.”

The board of higher education, like other decision making bodies, can go into executive session, a session closed to the public, to discuss certain topics, including contracts of university and college presidents. Volk said he had previously asked for access to the recordings but was told the entire board needed to vote to allow that.

“I take my responsibilities and duties very seriously and I want to learn as fast as I can,” Volk said.

Nick Hacker, a board member and former chairman of the State Board, said he wasn’t aware if this had ever happened before and wondered if it would set a precedent of making private recordings public, and possibly lead to litigation. Hacker said if Volk wanted to listen to recordings of those sessions, attended by people sitting near him at the meeting, that he could talk with them instead.

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Chairman Casey Ryan agreed with Hacker that it could set a new precedent, and urged members to vote against Volk’s motion.

“I've had discussions with member Volk on this issue,” Ryan said. “I know what his concerns are, and I totally disagree that he should have access to these past records.”

Volk was the lone member voting in support of his motion. The seven other members voted against it, including Gracie Lian, a student member from UND, who seconded the motion.

In other SBHE news, Board members:

  • Signed off on two proposals for career and technical education centers. One plan will see Dickinson State University work with public schools in that region to create such a center. The plan is to use a former hydraulic fracturing site, complete with several buildings across 40 acres. The site was built by oil company Halliburton, and reputed to have cost $60 million. The local school district purchased the land for $6 million, and will partner with DSU for programming at the center.

    The other CTE center will be in Minot, and will be jointly managed by Minot State University and Dakota College at Bottineau. The city will provide $800,000 to purchase a building owned by Trinity Health, which is relocating to a new facility. The city will also put more than $3 million toward renovations of the building.

    The CTE centers will help students and those looking to change fields with technical education for in-demand jobs, in areas such as information technology among others. The centers can also be a path to a four-year degree.

  • Heard a coronavirus update from Dr. Joshua Wynne, UND vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Wynne said the combination of slowly-increasing numbers of vaccinated people, along with those who became infected with the illness, could dampen the pandemic in the coming months. Wynne said there is some question about how effective resistance is to the illness, after a person has become infected.

    He displayed Centers For Disease Control Data indicating that people are five times less likely to contract the illness if vaccinated, and 10 times less likely to either die from it, or become hospitalized. Wynne also said getting the annual flu shot is important, because it could be a “double whammy” for students and school administrators, should the pandemic worsen.

    Wynne told board members it is not exactly clear what impact President Biden’s executive order on vaccines will have on schools in the NDUS system. He said the order may apply to institutions that have federal contracts, which is the case with UND as the school has a partnership with the U.S. Space Force, though it may not apply to departments that receive federal research grants.

  • Congratulated North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman, on his many years working at the school, and presented him with a plaque. Richman has worked at NDSCS for 35 years. He will retire in December.