Serendipity is the best part of travel, and the International Peace Garden is a destination that provides an unexpected juxtaposition of elements that both surprise and delight.
GRAND FORKS — A task force will study governance of higher education in North Dakota, the governor says. Applications for membership are due Thursday, Nov. 30. I'm not applying, but I do have one straightforward suggestion. Get rid of the residency requirement for members of the Board of Higher Education. Here's my case:
The North Dakota stop on Scott Pruitt's "listening tour" produced a kind of culture clash. Pruitt is the famously secretive administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a cabinet level position. North Dakota's political culture is one of the most open in the nation. Cabinet members don't show up in North Dakota all that often, and when they do, the event is usually fairly straightforward, with press conferences, public meetings and political credit for the local official who arranged the visit.
Too bad for North Dakota Democrats. No organization. No money. No candidates. All this when the political tide has turned in their direction. This is true for several reasons. To start, the party out of power usually improves its position in the off-year elections, such as those pending in 2018. Second, hard times usually favor Democrats, and that's been especially true in North Dakota. It used to be axiomatic that dry weather and low crop prices boosted Democratic chances and sometimes elected Democratic governors.
When it rains, it pours, they say. But they are often wrong. Sometimes it doesn't rain at all. Such was the case last week. Luckily, history came to the rescue. No such resort is necessary this week. This week, the political muses have been especially generous. First let us note the little kerfuffle that arose when the Legislative Management Committee met in Bismarck. Democrats were appointed to chair some of the sub-committees that will study issues ahead of the 2017 Legislature. What? You wonder! Democrats chairing committees?
Consider the burden under which a weekly columnist must labor. Deadlines sometimes pass before news happens. That is the case this week. The 65th Legislative Assembly continues in Bismarck as this is written, and it may continue as you read. Nevertheless, some conclusions can be drawn, and those presented here are buttressed by action that has taken place already.
One strand in the ongoing conversation about higher education is that campuses have become obsolete. Technology makes all knowledge available from anywhere, the argument goes, and this renders the campus little more than bricks and mortar. Except that any campus is more than bricks and mortar.
The situation facing higher education in North Dakota is distressing. Perhaps there is comfort in understanding that this has happened before. And worse.