Things don’t get a whole lot stranger at the state Legislature than they did last week, when a deal between North Dakota State University and the Sanford Health system blew up.
NDSU took over Sanford’s nursing program based in Bismarck three years ago, but without consulting legislators.
A bad step, it turned out.
On Wednesday, the House Republican leadership and members of the House Appropriations Committee confronted NDSU President Dean Bresciani about the deal.
That’s unusual. These sorts of negotiations are usually left to the universities and the system office.
Bresciani himself was silent as legislators berated him for his deal-making. That’s unusual, too.
The third unusual piece of the drama was the setting. It was a small, inaccessible and little used room behind the seats of the House balcony. That wasn’t an accident. Neither Sanford nor NDSU nor House leaders were eager to have the drama play out in public.
Bresciani spoiled that plan by sending an urgent e-mail on April 4 in which he said the program would be closed – an exaggeration, since House Republicans sought only to renegotiate the terms of the deal, which had been controversial at the time it was made.
The suggestion of closure brought a crowd of students to the state Capitol. They filled the Roughrider Room on the Capitol’s ground floor, the usual meeting place of the House Appropriations Committee. There, they waited.
Bresciani and his party waited outside the room.
No legislators showed up. Neither did any of Sanford’s lobbying team.
Meanwhile the committee had gathered in what’s called the House Conference room. Students quickly decamped and marched — no other word would describe their determination — to the House balcony.
Not all of them could get into the room, but enough did to raise the physical temperature to perspiration levels. The…