ELECTION 2020: North Dakota voters to decide on expansion of state’s higher education board

The constitutional amendment would increase membership on the State Board of Higher Education from eight to 15 voting members and also increase term length from four years to six years. Additionally the measure would prohibit state employees, officials, legislators, from being members.

The board oversees North Dakota’s 11 public colleges and universities.

Board members are appointed to the position by the governor. They currently can serve up to two, four-year terms. The board also includes a faculty and staff representative, both of whom are non-voting members, and a student representative who can serve for a year who is also appointed by the governor.

The ballot measure would change the process of the student member slightly. Under the ballot measure, the student member would be appointed by the governor from a list of names recommended by the executive board of the North Dakota Student Association. The student member would not be allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms.

Conversations about expanding the board’s membership began to grow in the last few years.

Gov. Doug Burgum pitched the idea to expand the state board to 15 members, while also creating a three-board system within the board.

The original recommendation, made at the end of 2018, would have created three governing boards. One for the state’s nine regional and community institutions and the one for each of the state’s two research universities.

That recommendation was not adopted by the Legislature.

Instead, the Legislature passed a resolution in 2019 allowing the voters to decide on the current ballot measure.

Opinions about expanding the board have been mixed.

In April 2019, Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, of Fargo, said “expanding from eight members to 15 members doesn’t solve the problems that currently exist with the system.”

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, has supported the measure, noting that the current board is overworked.

If passed, the measure would take effect on June 30, 2021. Current board members would still serve the rest of their terms.

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