The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Aug. 18, 2013
Looking ahead at higher ed
North Dakotans have no oracle to turn to when it comes to the future of the state Board of Higher Education.
Voters in the state must decide in 2014 whether to keep the board and its chancellor or swap them out for a three-member commission. Because a lot is at stake, what happens in the world of higher education between now and Nov. 4, 2014, will do much to shape the voters' choice.
The issue will be on the ballot because of long-term conflicts between the Board of Higher Education, chancellor, presidents of the state's 11 colleges and universities and members of the state House and Senate. Putting the existence of the board on the ballot was an act of frustration on the part of members of the Legislature.
Leading to the frustration were a tuition hike in excess of an amount suggested by the Legislature, cost overruns on campus projects, unilateral actions by college presidents and old-fashioned personality conflicts.
In recent months, the Board of Higher Education bought out the final two years of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani's contract for nearly $900,000 — that after rancorous discussions on and around the board. Throughout recent legislative sessions, it had been a war of words between key legislators and whoever was chancellor or represented the board.
Over the next 15 months, the board's fate will be set. In that regard, events are already starting to play out.
For instance, the board has named Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen as acting interim chancellor. He's serving while the board chooses a new chancellor, and he's a candidate for that job. There also are candidates for the job from other institutions in the state. How that position is filled, and by whom, will say much about the board in the run up to the election.
And there's a massive effort to make the college presidents' emails public, massive in that the requests for records go back to July 2012 and will cost the state an estimated $40,000 in staff time. These records are related to key words and phrases: "buyout," ''no confidence," ''Chancellor," ''Shirvani" and the names of three of the chancellor's critics.
It appears to be a fishing expedition. But sometimes when you go fishing, you catch something.
The requests were made through the Legislative Council by legislators. How they and others make use of the contents of the emails represents some unknown conversations ahead for the board and voters. It could get nasty.
The measure has been placed on the ballot by legislative action rather than by petitions containing the signatures of thousands of North Dakotans.
In other words, the measure's supporters do not represent a deep constituency. Nor does the Board of Higher Education have a deep bench, unless the alumni from the state's colleges and universities are mobilized in opposition to the measure.
North Dakota voters do not fall easily into either camp.
The truth of the matter: It will be one of the most important votes in the state's higher education history.
The board presently is in a muddle and has lost much of the public's confidence in its ability. The legislative remedy, however, qualifies as drastic action — some might say too drastic.
The Forum, Fargo, Aug. 17, 2013
Go out, see harvest close up
There is never a guarantee that every farmer who plants seeds in the spring will harvest a bumper crop in late summer and fall. That's the nature of agriculture in the Northern Plains.
Nonetheless, harvest in the Red River Valley and beyond is a time of hope, and of the promise of continuing prosperity for the people of the region. It's not just about a payday for farmers, although that's of primary importance. The agriculture economy is foundational. Every aspect of agribusiness (and make no mistake about it, modern production agriculture is big business) has an impact on the economic well-being of the people who live here, whether they recognize it or not.
Even in an urban center like Fargo that is surrounded by farms, more and more city dwellers are disconnected from the land and from farming. As the metro grows and fewer people live in the countryside, fewer city residents will have that connection to the rural life. But the economic relationship between city and country remains vital to the overall health of the regional economy.
One of the best ways for city people who have never been on a big farm to grasp production agriculture is to visit a big farm. (Get permission; get an invite.) As harvest accelerates into small grains, then corn and soybeans and eventually moves to sugar beet and potato fields, there is no better way to learn than to watch it unfold. For the uninitiated, the process can be amazing. The capacity of the land to produce the raw crops that will be converted into the diversity of our food choices can be eye-opening. The skill of farmers and the efficiency of their machines comprise a modern miracle.
Of course, not every farmer will run combines through a bumper crop. The wrong weather at the wrong time can wipe out a field or reduce yield a lot. Again, that's the risk of farming in this place.
But overall, harvest will produce bountiful yields — literally millions of tons of wheat, beans, corn and the rest. The farmers and agribusiness people of the Red River Valley region will do their part to feed the nation and the world. That's good news for all of us, and it's why harvest is a good time to live in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Minot Daily News, Minot, Aug. 17, 2013
Jones served admirably
Retired general David C. Jones was a visionary, according to those who worked with him during his long career in the Air Force. Jones, who was born in South Dakota but grew up in Minot, died Aug. 10 at the age of 92.
Jones' lengthy and impressive career made him well-known in the military and political worlds. He flew more than 300 bomber missions over North Korea, and after the Korean War he served as a top aide to Gen. Curtis LeMay. Jones served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, first as the Air Force chief of staff and then as chairman from 1978 to 1982. He was responsible for a reorganization of the country's military command, and many of his suggestions were included in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, according to an Associated Press story. The legislation streamlined the military chain of command. His family said he rose from colonel to four-star general in five years.
Jones attended the University of North Dakota and Minot State University but dropped out to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Jones is remembered well at Minot State. The David C. Jones room, which is filled with memorabilia, is dedicated to the retired general. It's a well-deserved honor for a man who served his country admirably and honorably.