An Advisory Team from the Higher Learning Commission has released an in-depth report giving the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education and the North Dakota University System a favorable review of their current leadership practices and significant progress in overcoming past challenges.
In her letter to Board Chair Kirsten Diederich and Interim Chancellor Larry C. Skogen, HLC President Barbara Gellman Danley said, “I believe that you, the Board and the system office staff members are to be commended on the diligent work you have done in the months between July 2013, when the Advisory Visit was ordered, and April 2014 when the visit took place, to ensure that the system was functioning in compliance with good practices in governance and the requirements of the Commission.”
The HLC ordered the visit following a complaint that was filed in April 2013. The team’s report will go to the HLC’s Board of Trustees for final review at its next meeting on Oct. 30-31.
“We are grateful to the team members for their thorough review and for the professional manner in which they conducted their visit,” said Diederich. “We are looking forward to closing this chapter in our history and are excited about what the future holds for the university system and our students.”
The Advisory Team’s visit focused on four Criteria for Accreditation. The following summarizes the team’s findings:
- Criterion Two, Core Component 2.A., which requires that an accredited institution operate with integrity and establish and follow fair and ethical policies. The team said that the system is currently functioning with a high degree of integrity. “The Board’s and NDUS staff’s approach to making progress in this area is particularly noteworthy.” The team commends the system for good use of traditional and high-tech communication tools to establish a high degree of transparency as well as appropriate training and changes in practice regarding open meetings.
- Criterion Two, Core Component 2.C., which requires an autonomous governing board that makes decisions in the best interest of the institution. The team emphasized the importance of autonomy of the SBHE to accreditation and was concerned that undue influence could be exerted by the Legislature. The report acknowledges that there has been tension between the Board and the Legislature, which they said is not unique to North Dakota, but no clear attempts to influence were seen at this time. The team recommends that the Legislature and the Board think about the state’s considerable assets in its higher education system – especially faculty, staff, students, facilities – and redouble their efforts to work together.
- Criterion Five, Core Component 5.B., which requires that governance and administrative structures promote effective leadership and support collaborative processes. The team said that Interim Chancellor Skogen and his staff were creating a disciplined, systematic approach for input and inclusive dialogue while reviewing policies and procedures and roles and responsibilities of the Board and the staff. The team noted that the Board has returned to an operational style that is inclusive and promotes collaboration between the Board and the individual institutions and among the institutions themselves. The report mentions that the Board’s current focus on the issues at hand appears to be mitigating the circumstances leading to the complaint.
- Criterion Five, Core Component 5.D., which requires that an accredited institution work to systematically improve its performance. The team said it believes that the current board leadership and staff are working to address goal setting, self-evaluation and accountability for improvement, but at the time of the team’s visit these efforts had just begun. The team recognized that there is only so much change that can be implemented in such a short period of time and recommends follow-up to ensure board and system improvements now in the planning stages will become standard operating procedure for the SBHE.
Chair Diederich said that, since the team’s visit, the Board has received significant training in best practices for effective boards through the Association of Governing Boards and is currently undergoing a Board evaluation process. “In addition, we have made considerable progress in developing the 2015-2020 strategic plan for the university system,” she said. “The Board will review the plan at its October meeting, and we are very excited about unleashing the potential of our system.”
The advisory team extended its thanks to all who assisted in the planning and execution of its visit and offered its best wishes to everyone who will be involved in “designing and delivering a best-in-class system of higher education for the citizens of North Dakota.”
The full report and cover letter from the team may be found at: http://ndus.edu/uploads/resources/5093/ndus-hlc-advisory-visit-cover-letter-&-report.pdf. The video recording of the news conference regarding this letter is also available online: http://youtu.be/WRCrJD03VxY.