AL CARLSON: Measure 3 addresses shortcomings in higher ed’s method of governance

FARGO -- As the election draws near, there has been a lot of press about Measure 3 and what it does or does not do. I think it's time for a simple explanation of the measure.

Al Carlson

FARGO - As the election draws near, there has been a lot of press about Measure 3 and what it does or does not do. I think it’s time for a simple explanation of the measure.

Measure 3 deals with the governance of our higher education system - nothing more, nothing less.

The measure would replace the current eight-member part-time board with a full-time, three-member commission. This commission would have the same mission as the existing board - “overseeing and administering the provisions of higher education in this state.”

The commission would oversee and administer higher education at the following sites: Bismarck, Bottineau, Devils Lake, Dickinson, Fargo, Grand Forks, Mayville, Minot, Valley City, Wahpeton and Williston. Today, the three sites of Bismarck, Devils Lake and Williston are not identified in our state constitution.

In both the current board and the proposed three-member commission, the members are appointed by the governor from a list supplied by a nominating committee. They then are approved by the Senate and serve four-year terms.


Of the proposed three-member commission, one must have leadership experience in the private sector, and one must hold a position within the higher education sector. There are no such requirements of the existing board.

In fact, current appointments tend to be more geographic rather than based on qualifications.

The new structure does not call for a chief executive officer (chancellor). It does, however, call for an advisory board that could include both a faculty and student member.

The debate on this issue has centered on the claim that the change in governance could cause a loss of accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. It can be said with certainty that the opposition of the measure cannot claim that accreditation will be lost anymore than the proponents say it won’t.

Our Legislative Council’s research showed the following: “We could find no instance in which issues considered by the Higher Learning Commission involved university ‘system’ governance. In each instance where governance was an issue, the concerns appear to be with the governance structure of the individual institutions.”

The role of the Legislature does not change in Measure 3. The language remains the same in both forms of governance. “The Board or Commission will have full executive responsibility for the management and operation of the North Dakota University System within constitutional and statutory requirements and limitations.”

The Legislature is very committed to our higher education system. Since 2009, we have increased spending 54.3 percent as well as invested nearly $200 million in campus projects. A lot of great things are happening on our campuses, and that will not change with new governance.

The discussion should center on the students and taxpayers who pay for the system. Are they receiving the results they expect from the system?


The board members, past and present, should be commended for their volunteer service.

Is our present governance providing the results we expect? Can a part-time board handle this $2 billion enterprise? Those are key questions!

Measure 3 is not a complicated measure. The Legislature put this issue forward to you, the voters. This Nov. 4, your vote will decide the outcome of higher education governance in North Dakota.

State Rep. Carlson, R-Fargo, is the majority leader of the North Dakota House. He was a sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 3047, the legislation that brought to the ballot Measure 3, the North Dakota Commission of Higher Education amendment. 

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