Chancellor, others address building questions

BISMARCK (AP) – A lawmaker who wants to oust North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani said he hasn’t changed his mind even though Shirvani has resolved one issue that sparked complaints.

Shirvani has been criticized for a proposal to create office space in a planned information technology building on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks. He and state Board of Higher Education President Duaine Espegard told a legislative committee on Thursday that the office was never planned as a private executive suite and does not affect the size or cost of the building, approved at $12.5 million. The building will be used by UND and the University System.

Shirvani told lawmakers that he found the controversy unfortunate because there are “so many important issues to work on.”

“If the Legislature does not want me to use office space . I’m fine with it,” he said. “It’s inconsequential to me where I sit.”

Espegard testified that discussion about the building and the inclusion of an office began long before Shirvani began his duties last July. The idea for the office came from the state board, which has given Shirvani – who is based in Bismarck – a directive to spend more time on the UND and North Dakota State University campuses in eastern North Dakota, he said. NDSU is in Fargo.

The issue helped bring to light some legislators’ concerns that Shirvani has an overbearing style of leadership. Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, has criticized Shirvani as being a questionable leader who created “an environment of fear and retaliation.”

Grindberg said Shrivani and Espegard “addressed (the building issue) head on,” but he still plans to propose an amendment to the higher education funding bill to provide money for a buyout of Shirvani’s contract.

Shirvani maintains he is doing what he was hired to do – overhaul the state’s higher education system. Espegard and other board members say they support Shirvani.