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ND higher ed board could reduce in-person meetings

Don Morton (Submitted photo)

BISMARCK—The governing body of North Dakota's public university system could be reducing its monthly in-person meeting schedule to a quarterly arrangement—a possibility that has "disappointed" the head of a state faculty organization.

Don Morton, chair of the State Board of Higher Education, attributed the move to excessive travel by board members relative to the length of their meeting agendas. Though the change is still awaiting board approval and will likely see a vote in the November meeting of the SBHE, Morton described the possible shift as a push to "be more efficient and use people's time more."

"We've been meeting every month for years, and a lot of the time our agenda is so light we meet for a couple hours and we've all had to travel somewhere," Morton said.

He added that the quarterly schedule would likely be complemented by digital meetings to be held as-needed. Morton said the sometimes lengthy topic of academic program changes would be "the biggest driver" of those in-between meetings. The board might also expand the number and scope of its committees to finish the bulk of its work outside full meetings. If that does become the case, Morton said, much of the SBHE's actual meeting time could be given over to a more streamlined consent agenda.

Beyond the reduction in traditional meetings, the revamped schedule would also place each face-to-face session in Bismarck. As the meeting schedule currently stands, the SBHE often meets at a different North Dakota campus each month.

Though board members would see less of each other in meetings, Morton suggested they might be able to catch up in a more casual way.

"We'll also make sure we do something together socially the night before," he said. "That would be healthy for us, as far as relationships go, so people have a chance to mingle on an informal basis with board members and presidents."

Morton said the board has publicly discussed the change in some way for as far back as two years ago. He hadn't yet received any feedback from state legislators about a possible quarterly schedule. Though Morton said the change is already in effect, NDUS spokesperson Billie Jo Lorius said the scheduling item has yet to come to a board vote.

The system office sent notice Tuesday canceling the October meeting of the SBHE, citing scheduling conflicts among board members. The cancellation moves the rescheduling proposal onto the board's November meeting. Lorius said schedule items are addressed with a single yes-no vote given over to the majority.

Morton said the monthly meetings at present can be difficult for board members—who serve as volunteers—to balance their duties against full-time work. Even with fewer in-person meetings, he believed the board would handle its business much as it always has.

Debora Dragseth, president of the NDUS Council of College Faculties, agreed that leading the university system was a time-consuming job. But she was disappointed with the prospect of a quarterly meeting schedule.

"What the board members do, it's an amazing gift of their time, energy and talents—however, that gift needs to be on a more consistent, regular basis than four times a year," Dragseth said. The council will discuss in its upcoming meeting the possible change in SBHE scheduling and will likely issue an official opinion. Dragseth, who is a professor at Dickinson State University, said she herself believed the significance to the state of the higher education budget and workforce created a need for a more robust official meeting schedule.

"My personal opinion is that, when you agree to be on the board and serve the state in that way, you should go all in," she said.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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