Board of higher ed supports chancellor

The State Board of Higher Education expressed its support for embattled university system chancellor Hamid Shirvani Sunday.

“As the current president, vice president and immediate past president of the State Board of Higher Education, we are disappointed in the recent resolutions of the North Dakota Student Association,” said Duaine Espegard, Kirsten Diederich, and Grant Shaft in a joint press release on Sunday. “The Board remains in full support of the policies adopted by the Board and implemented by Chancellor Shirvani.”

On Saturday the North Dakota Student Association passed a resolution in support of amending a state Senate bill to fund a buyout of Shirvani’s contract. That bill, Senate Bill 2003, is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor sometime this week before legislative crossover on Friday. The amendment was proposed by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, who said earlier this month that Shirvani has demonstrated questionable leadership and has increased mistrust among the university presidents.

The North Dakota Student Association, made up of student representatives from the state’s 11 public colleges and universities, also passed a vote of no confidence in Shirvani on Saturday. The association claimed in its press release that “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 also passed a vote of no confidence in Shirvani and a resolution expressing support for a buyout of Shirvani’s contract. The Minot State Student Government specifically cited concerns about Shirvani’s 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 at North Dakota colleges and universities, 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.

In the State Board of Higher Education response, Espegard, Diederich and Shaft said Shirvani has done what he was asked to do when he was hired less than a year ago.

“The Board hired Chancellor Shirvani to assist the Board in implementing reforms to the University System with the intent of elevating the quality of the overall system while focusing on greater accountability and efficiencies,” they stated. “Chancellor Shirvani has worked tirelessly to engage all of our constituencies with a passion that has been absent for some time. In a very short period of time, Chancellor Shirvani’s leadership and knowledge have aided the Board in addressing policies that have plagued the Board for many years. In carrying out our overall policies, directions, and agenda he has worked arduously and with dedication to make North Dakota’s colleges and universities into a student-centered and mission-driven system.”

Shirvani did not return a call seeking comment on Friday from The Minot Daily News but told the Associated Press earlier this month that he has no plans to resign. The cost of buying out his contract has been estimated at as much as $800,000.