Published April 3, 2023

Rules for Tenure Fail Senate 

Written by
Lydia Hoverson
| The Dakotan
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Dis. 11, Fargo, stands in opposition to a bill that creates new rules and a review system for tenured faculty members at two universities in North Dakota. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Dis. 11, Fargo, stands in opposition to a bill that creates new rules and a review system for tenured faculty members at two universities in North Dakota. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)

Universities of Dickinson and Bismarck 


BISMARCK – A bill that adds rules and a system of review for some university professors with tenure failed in the North Dakota State Senate Friday. 

House Bill 1446 would have created a four-year program with four to five new requirements for tenured faculty members at Bismarck State College and Dickinson State University. The requirements included that the tenured faculty member must comply with the institution’s policies and engage in activities that help retain students for the institution.  

In the bill the president of either institution could review the faculty member’s performance, and if the president determines the tenured faculty member has failed to comply with these rules, the president would not be allowed to renew the member’s contract unless the president specifically articulates why it is in the interest of the institution to continue to employ the faculty member. The bill received a unanimous Do Pass recommendation from the Senate Education committee. 

“DSU and BSC are the two institutions of higher education that are mentioned in the bill,” said Sen. Jay Elkin, R-Dis. 36, Taylor. “These two institutions are changing their business models to provide more opportunities for our kids here in this state. Our taxpayer supported institutions of higher education are moving forward with strategies to remain competitive in the marketplace and aligning with other groups to provide for the best educational opportunity for our kids.” 

Elkin said DSU is changing to a dual-mission campus and BSC is providing more polytechnic courses. 

“They are aligning with career technicademies, local high schools, adding technology to provide more access to online classes,” said Elkin. 

“Essentially this is a management issue on the part of a couple universities that those managers have not been able to address,” said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Dis 11, Fargo. “If they have issues regarding faculty and tenure, they should address it. So, they moved it up to the board, now they’ve moved it to the legislature. So, we have it. I encourage us to vote against this bill.” 

Mathern gave three reasons against the bill which included the struggle for workforce. 

“This is like a red light around the country saying, if you are a professor of high standing, don’t come to North Dakota,” said Mathern. “The second reason is the dreams of our state. I used to think Dickinson State University would literally be a university of the west. But I think with this bill we’re basically saying they will become a technical school.” 

Mathern said the third reason is that the board of higher education has a constitutional place in North Dakota. 

“We should not be interfering with the business of the board of higher education,” said Mathern. “They should make these decisions about tenure. They should make these decisions about the power of the university. Let’s defeat this bill and tell these university presidents you’re getting a big salary, earn it, figure out your staff issues.” 

“It’s not as easy as what one thinks to remove a tenured faculty member,” said Elkin. “To remove one, in the state board of higher education policy it states that the individual must be incompetent or dishonest in their teachings. No one can really define incompetency. When it comes to the constitutional matter, I’m not certain, but I know when the University System was in, they never mentioned anything about whether this was constitutionally right or not.” 

Elkin said the North Dakota University System mentioned that a number of other states are moving in this direction. 

HB1446 failed by a vote of 23 to 21. 

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