NDSU Nursing Program in Bismarck at Risk of Closing Because of House Amendment and Personal Politics

An amendment to the Higher Education budget in the House Appropriations Committee has caused quite a controversy over the past twelve hours. The amendment to SB 2003 would close the NDSU Nursing Program in Bismarck. The program, an approved partnership since 2014 between NDSU and Sanford Health, was created to address the nursing shortage our state has faced over the last decade. That shortage still exists.

Here are the immediate impacts of the amendment approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The information comes from NDSU supporters familiar with the Legislature and the Nursing Program.

  • 236 undergraduate students and 17 Doctor of Nurse Practice students (with a specialty in Family Nurse Practice) will be left without a program in Bismarck
  • 15 faculty members and 3 staff members will have their positions terminated
  • May result in an accreditation risk for the School of Nursing at NDSU

This isn’t the first time the NDSU Nursing program in Bismarck has caused a stir. In 2014 when the deal was approved, University of Mary supporters decried the deal. Part of their outrage stemmed from the fact the University of Mary, a private college, has a School of Health Sciences program which includes nursing. The reason the State Board of Higher Education approved the deal with NDSU is because of the university’s education and administrative capacity.

Then in the 2016 election, it became a partisan political issue. Campaign mailers sent by the North Dakota Republican Party attacked Kirsten Diederich, a Democratic candidate for the House in District 46, for the 2014 deal. Diederich was Chair of the Board of Higher Education during the agreement. Why would the NDGOP House caucus want to place itself against NDSU and attempts to address the state’s nursing shortage?

Rep. Bob Martinson

Well, it turns out Rep. Bob Martinson, (Republican, Bismarck) is a driving force behind this prolonged outrage. Why is he so determined to drive the NDSU nursing program out of Bismarck? Rep. Bob Martinson’s wife is the Dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of Mary. The same School of Health Sciences that offers a nursing program of their own.

Disregard the institutional capacity to address the state’s nursing shortage. This competition is personal. It is personal to a legislator who is on the House Appropriations Committee that is attaching this amendment. It is yet another example of an attempt by the legislature to interject itself into an agreement forged by another governing body. (See also the dispute over the Public Employees Retirement System). Again, it is a shift done without a public hearing because it is an amendment.

I also want to make clear this is nothing against the University of Mary. I’m sure it is a fine institution that graduates high achieving professionals. But this deal between NDSU and Sanford Health was vetted and approved in 2014 by the Board of Higher Education on a vote of 6-1. I trust the process and the overwhelming approval.

There are about two weeks left in the session. That is, of course, if the leadership wants to adjourn on day 70 like they’ve publicly stated. This is often when rushed changes are placed onto bills in an effort to skirt around public scrutiny. In this instance, they were caught. From what I’m hearing out of Bismarck since last night, the public pressure is beginning to weigh on them. Perhaps this will be pushed back if that pressure continues, and the NDSU nursing program in Bismarck will survive and continue to graduate the nurses we are in dire need of in North Dakota.

Tyler Axness