The chancellor of North Dakota’s university system came down hard this week, ordering Williston State College to stop housing foreign workers at the school.
Hamid Shirvani said housing foreign workers at the college “raises legitimate safety and security concerns.”
“Housing foreign workers was not intended when the Legislature authorized bonds or appropriated public funds to build, maintain and operate the facilities,” Shirvani wrote in a letter to the college.
While it is hard to argue against Shirvani’s point, the decision he made is clearly easier from Bismarck than it is from Williston.
Yes, some of the foreign workers staying at the college are not there for purely educational issues. The rules regulating who can stay at state colleges or universities make it clear only students are allowed.
But things are a little different here. The boom in the oil field has led to an explosion in population and increased difficulty in finding workers. As anyone in Williston is well aware, finding a place to live may be the biggest challenge.
The foreign workers staying at Williston State College are not in the area trying to get rich in the oil field. Instead they are filling important positions at the college, in restaurants and in local grocery stores.
Without the help, some of those establishments would find it difficult to find enough employees to stay open.
The foreign workers fill a vital need in Williston, and our college recognized that. The college may have broken the rules, and the state told them to stop.
But Williston State College recognized an important fact — we are all in this together. When the college agreed to house the foreign workers, it had the best interests of the entire community in mind.
WSC also took steps to ensure the foreign workers and regular students were not mixed. While the students at WSC stay in the new Frontier Hall, the foreign workers are living in Dixon Hall, a facility that was slated to be torn down. Im sorry, Chancellor Shirvani, but there were no “legitimate safety concerns.”
We applaud the college for looking out for all of us, and we now hope a new housing answer can be found before it’s too late and the workers we so desperately need are sent home.