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Our view: Leave schools in North Dakota Constitution

Herald editorial board

For more than a century, the North Dakota Constitution has listed eight of the state's institutions of higher education. The constitution declares "all colleges, universities and other educational institutions, for the support of which lands have been granted to this state, or which are supported by a public tax, shall remain under the absolute and exclusive control of the state."

Every few years, North Dakotans are urged to change the wording of that sacred state decree, and every time, lawmakers and residents of this state rightly decline. In 1998, voters overwhelmingly struck down a measure that would have changed the wording. Several times since then, the Legislature has worked to change the wording, but to no avail.

It's happening again, as a lawmaker pushes to return the issue to a statewide vote. Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 3016, which seeks to strike the names and locations of the institutions from the constitution and put the issue on a ballot in 2020.

We hope it doesn't pass muster in the Legislature, and for two reasons. First, it's an issue that has been debated ad nauseum, defeated by voters and lawmakers alike. It deserves rest. Second, the constitution was wisely written this way to forever avoid such attacks on universities and their host cities.

Becker stresses that HCR 3016 isn't about closing colleges, but instead is a way to be prepared for a new future of education. As he says that, he also hints that communities should be prepared for what could be coming their way.

"It doesn't matter if you decry the consequences to the community if it's going to happen. It's going to happen," he said. "But if we can get out in front of it, we can minimize the effect if it's going to happen."

Becker also said the way the constitution is written, it's possible the state is improperly funding community colleges, such as Lake Region State College.

We don't like HCR 3016 and urge lawmakers to vote it down. Sending it to yet another statewide vote continues a tiresome trend of a few — in this case Becker — trying hard to override what the state founders intended for all.

It certainly wouldn't bode well for the state's small campuses, including the one in Mayville. There, Mayville State has seen numerous enrollment records, including a span of seven records in eight years. The 1,100-student campus is important not only for the students who simply prefer and therefore deserve a smaller learning environment, but also for the community.

Detractors say government shouldn't be in the business of economic development, but we disagree. Universities are, without doubt, economic engines; UND, for example, was a great coup for Grand Forks, which grew and developed around the flagship university. The same has occurred in places like Mayville and Valley City.

Regardless of its declared intent, HCR 3016 would unnecessarily leave a sword hanging over the head of Mayville State and that community, despite the express intent of North Dakota's founders.

To a lesser extent, it would do the same here in Grand Forks. UND will never close, but without its existence in the constitution, it too loses some of its power.

Likes its predecessors, HCR 3016 should be voted down.