Tenure, strategy and an address from the governor were major agenda items last week when the State Board of Higher Education held its regular February meeting.
The day’s discussions were set into gear by an address from Gov. Doug Burgum, who spoke to the Board, college and university presidents, and system office staff about his vision for higher education in the state.
“Higher education and lifelong learning are so important,” Burgum said. “I have often said this is the most underpaid, overworked and underappreciated Board in the state. I am grateful for the service that all of you do for this mission.”
Burgum noted that the role of education to society was important and its challenges were large.
“Change is happening faster now than ever before,” he said. “Humans have a hard time seeing accelerating change because we base our experiences on the environment.”
Burgum employed examples of changing times by highlighting how asset-free companies like Uber and AirBNB reflected a push to digitization, something he felt the North Dakota University System could look toward embracing more. He added that the time was ripe for reinvention.
Dr. Richard Rothaus spoke for first of four such presentations about the strategic plan, using metrics highlighted in the Dashboards tool. Rothaus focused on Goal 2 of the strategic plan, to “Provide programs people want, where and when they want them.” This objective included key indicators and measurements. As one example, Rothaus highlighted available data, which showed that degrees awarded throughout the system had increased since 2009.
“This is important, this is the agenda, we need a plan in place,” Board Chair Kathleen Neset said. “This is the follow-up to pathways to student success and informs us before the strategic retreat this summer.
Ryan Jockers, NDUS institutional and strategic analyst, spoke next on Strategic Planning Online, and its implementation throughout the system. Jockers noted that SPOL combined key elements of strategic planning, budgeting, assessment, program review, credentialing, and accreditation offering a unified collaborative environment for holistic continuous improvement.
Notification of termination
Board members next opened up discussion on a proposed policy change that would change the minimum notice for termination of tenured faculty to 90 days. Current policy stated that faculty be given 12 months notification of termination. At the previous months’ meeting, the institutional faculty senates, as well as faculty representatives from throughout the system made their cases in-person and through video-teleconferencing options, speaking unanimous disapproval of the proposed change.
After that meeting, a subcommittee was formed to review recommendations from the Council of College Faculty and to find a working solution for the system. System officials and Board members reiterated that the policy change was proposed to allow campus presidents budget flexibility during trying times.
Vice Chair Don Morton noted that the Board and system wanted the best policy for all the campuses, which was why allowing for a 180-day notification was included as an option.
Board Member Nick Hacker added that what the Board was looking toward was a 180-day notice period, with notification times being left to the discretion of the campuses. He reiterated that it was not an attack on tenure, noting that financial outlooks had already caused administrative and staffing cuts throughout the system.
The SBHE heard two hours of deliberation, including an address from Ernst Pijning, Faculty Adviser to the Board. Mr. Pijning, spoke at length about the CCF’s wishes that the change would not be made because it would be viewed as an assault on tenure. He added that creating a sunset clause within the policy, effectively ending it by June 30, 2019, would help assure faculty it was only a temporary tool.
After extensive public comment, Neset reassured those in attendance and those listening via distance connect options that the proposed change was a last resort brought about due to financial need.
After discussion closed, the Board reviewed policy 605.3, as well as the CCF resolution and Board subcommittee recommendation. An amendment was proposed to require 90-day notification in the case of Board-identified financial exigency, 180-day notification in times of loss of appropriation, and 12 months for all other circumstances. A sunset date of June 30, 2019 was also proposed. Both the amendment subsequent policy change were approved by the SBHE.
The Board then heard a presentation on operations at the NDSU Bookstore, which offered a look into course material decisions, including rentals, used book sourcing, Open Educational Resources, infrastructure/software investment, online/website access codes and more. Total savings to students for the Fall ‘16/Spring ’17 semesters was estimated at $1.4 million.
Next up was a report on the Workforce Education Advisory Council, presented by WEAC Chairman Mark Anderson and Stephanie Davison, of FHI 360, which created the report. Anderson provided background on WEAC, created by legislative mandate in the previous session to look into workforce educational needs.
Davison noted that the report included energy, health care, information technology and manufacturing. She detailed the recommendations from thee report, which touched on both higher education and K-12.
Chief Compliance Officer Karol Riedman reported on the process of resolving data inconsistencies. Her report noted that all but five of 29 projects had concluded, with two of the final data inconsistencies finding resolution by this July.
Chief of Staff Lisa Feldner and Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan reported next on the legislative update, providing details on bills that had been approved as of crossover. Feldner passed along sentiments from the legislators, including appreciation of the cooperation from the Board, presidents and NDUS staff.
Dolan reported on a summary of the general fund appropriation approved by the Senate. T Dolan noted that in totaled $616 million, about $65 million less than the 2015-17 post-allotment base. She stressed that this amount is $120.5 million below the original 2015-17 budget. During calendar year 2016, 396 positions had been reduced throughout the system as a result of the budget allotments and initial 10 percent budget reductions. Additional staffing reduction will be necessary to meet the 20 percent budget cuts recommended by the Senate. Dolan noted that the budget presented an opportunity for restructuring and streamlining operations.
Hagerott provided his update next, noting that in addition to legislative work, other initiatives continued forward. He noted that Envision 2030 was coming along well, and nine of 10 sessions have been held with legislators to hear their feedback. Other work continued on Bakken U, Nexus ND, and other initiatives.
North Dakota Student Association President Jacob Dailey provided an update to the Board next, noting that the NDSA crafted a strategic plan to begin the year. He noted that was done to better align the organization with the path of the state. Dailey brought up efforts the NDSA supported, such as Open Educational Resources, extending the Challenge Grant fund, and institutional autonomy. He added that he was pleased to see more students becoming active in the organization, and he thanked the Board for the support it offered the state, system and students.
Staff Advisor to the Board, Andy Wakeford, spoke on behalf of the Staff Senate next. He began by noting how North Dakota was a leader in having a member of the staff on the Board, joining just six other states in that regard. Wakeford commended employees at Bismarck State College, who had participated in a voluntary action of working without pay for a day to help alleviate budget concerns.
Melicher provided an update to the NDUS Foundation. The foundation had recently raised more than $8,000 through Giving Hearts Day to aid its overall mission of scholarships, faculty awards and educational initiatives.
The next Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 30 via video-teleconference.