Students show no confidence in Shirvani

The North Dakota Student Government Association passed a resolution Saturday in support of a proposal by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, to amend Senate Bill 2003 to provide funding for a buyout of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s contract. The vote supporting the amendment passed 50 to 5, with 11 abstaining from voting.

The NDSA also passed a vote of no confidence in Shirvani. That vote passed 53 to 2, with seven students abstaining from voting.

“What we hope to accomplish is removal of the chancellor,” said Sydney Hull, the student member on the State Board of Higher Education and a student at North Dakota State University, Fargo.

Hull said he personally has a good working relationship with Shirvani but must represent the position taken by his constituents in opposing the chancellor. The fact that the chancellor has gone from enjoying almost unanimous support from student groups to overwhelming opposition during his tenure is indicative of a problem, said Hull.

When Grindberg proposed the amendment, he said, he felt Shirvani’s leadership had led to increased mistrust among the system’s university leaders and that Shirvani has exhibited questionable leadership. Shirvani said earlier this month that he has no plans to resign and he is doing what he was hired by the board to do, which is to improve the performance of the university system, increase student graduation rates and improve retention rates.

Caitlin Dogemuller, public relations officer for the North Dakota Student Government Association and a student at NDSU, said the vote reflected student perception that Shirvani’s time in office has not reflected university system values.

According to a press release issued by the association, NDSA delegates found “student interactions and observations with Chancellor Shirvani” to have consistently conflicted with the core values required by Section 100.5 of the policies of the State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) “in how the Board and all personnel of the University System carry out responsibilities on a daily basis.” These values include high integrity, trustworthiness, accountability, cooperativeness, and openness, honesty and mutual respect discussion and actions. Furthermore, NDSA found “the hierarchical, top-down culture for communication and authority, as shown in written communications from the Chancellor as well as changes to SBHE policy during his first few months in office, have created a culture of mistrust and disconnect” inconsistent with the “culture of openness and access” necessary for an effective higher education system.

Earlier this month, Minot State University’s student government association had passed a separate resolution in support of Grindberg’s amendment and a vote of no confidence in Shirvani. Minot State’s Student Government Association resolution expressed opposition to Shirvani’s proposed Pathways to Student Success document. Among other changes, the Pathways to Student Success plan would end flat-rate tuition for out-of-state and international students, tighten admission requirements at the state’s four-year universities and reduce available tuition waivers, with waivers not to exceed 5 percent of the previous year’s undergraduate tuition charges.

Senate Bill 2003 is due for a vote on the Senate floor by legislative crossover on Friday.