With vote looming, higher ed board members believe they have improved the way they do business

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FARGO, North Dakota — The state Board of Higher Education voted Thursday to add a permanent agenda item at the end of its monthly meetings that will allow its members to talk about the pros and cons of each gathering and recommend future agenda items.

The question is whether the board will have the chance to incorporate the idea.

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to replace the current eight-member, part-time board with the proposed three-member, full-time commission. Backers of the measure say the change is needed to manage a billion-dollar system that includes 11 colleges and universities.

Board president Kirsten Diederich, of Fargo, said she didn't think about the possibility that Thursday could have been the group's final day of discussing regular business.

"Honestly, that didn't even cross my mind," she said after the meeting at Valley City State University. "We are moving forward. We still have to be here for our institutions and keep our momentum going regardless of the vote coming up next week."

Diederich said that before Thursday's meeting started, she read a Bismarck Tribune editorial backing the measure. The piece said that while board members are "highly successful professionals from around the state who offer their time," the situation has reached the point where the board needs to be replaced.

Diederich said it hasn't been easy to listen to complaints, but believes the group can learn from the criticism.

"I think we already are a better board," she said. "We have gone through some training and the experience in dealing with the Higher Learning Commission has improved our perspective."

The Higher Learning Commission, which handles accreditation for colleges and universities, investigated the university system following a complaint about poor leadership. Its report was mostly favorable but suggested more monitoring in some areas.

The board has scheduled a special meeting two days after the election to plot its future.

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