The State Board of Higher Education has conducted a self-evaluation that shows some of the board’s members would like the group to be better at communication.

The survey results were released last month. The 20-page report included discussions about the board’s policies and board members’ relationship with North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott.

The survey is a tool to seek board improvement, according to outgoing chairman Don Morton. Generally, the survey included many positive remarks.

But with communication, some board members – whose comments were kept anonymous – were refreshingly frank.

“There appears to be a lack of trust from the governor, the Legislature, and even (university) presidents, because they are irritated with something we have done or not done. Some of the things they do or try to do make it hard to be successful.”

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And this: “There appears to be an inside group and an outside group within the board, where some members know more about what is going on. This can be troublesome if a member gets a call regarding an issue – they should know what is going on. … Communication at the top level needs to be broader, without wasting the chancellor’s time.”

That comment is telling and possibly hints at issues that boiled to the surface when UND President Mark Kennedy announced earlier this year that he was the sole finalist to become the president at the University of Colorado.

Kennedy, in his zeal to release a statement, wrote that he was sad to be leaving UND; it was a slip of the tongue, since the job had not yet officially been offered to Kennedy. Hagerott – knowing Kennedy was a finalist for a job in Florida a year earlier – quickly penned a letter to Kennedy, accepting his “de facto” resignation.

Apparently, some board members knew about the letter, but others did not.

In the end, both Kennedy and Hagerott got what they wanted – Kennedy got the job and Hagerott got Kennedy’s resignation. But the process still gave the appearance that board communication can be better.

Now, comments made in the survey provide hope that it will improve.

Another sign of progress: At the board’s meeting last week, Dan Traynor – who soon will become the board’s budget and finance committee chair – reported that he has asked legal counsel to help write more thorough contracts for university presidents. Among the provisions in future contracts might be wording or stipulations that encourage presidents to stay on the job longer.

Kennedy’s contract at Colorado is 15 pages long; sports coaches in the North Dakota system have contracts as long as 10 pages. But the UND contract signed by Kennedy was just a single page, with no wording about seeking other jobs or early termination of the contract.

These are good developments. Better board communication and more thorough contracts both will improve the process going forward.