Chancellor buyout to cost ND taxpayers nearly $1M

BISMARCK (AP) – The buyout of North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s contract will cost state taxpayers nearly $1 million.

The Board of Higher Education voted Monday to buy out Shirvani’s contract, after a tumultuous year in which he was accused by some detractors of having an overbearing management style. State Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem also said Shirvani and the state Board of Higher Education violated open meeting laws.

Shirvani said he had been given a mandate to overhaul the state’s higher education system and was just doing his job. Shirvani, a native of Iran, told KXMB-TV and The Forum newspaper that he has been subjected not only to criticism about his leadership style but also to racial slurs and profanity.

“It has just been hell,” he told the TV station.

His $925,377 buyout includes the two final years of Shirvani’s three-year contract, health insurance and retirement benefits, and compensation for annual leave time, according to Laura Glatt, vice chancellor for administrative affairs.

The money will come from the university system’s budget, according to spokeswoman Linda Donlin. The agency also is paying an undetermined amount to an outside attorney that handled the negotiations.

Minneapolis-based attorney Sara McGrane was hired because university system attorneys report to the chancellor and a third party was needed to avoid any conflict of interest, Donlin told The Bismarck Tribune.

Shirvani is stepping down July 15, though he will be available to the university system staff and the Board of Higher Education until January. He will get the buyout money even if he takes another job, according to The Forum.

Shirvani told KXMB that he should have left months ago.

“Retrospectively, that was my second-biggest mistake,” he said. “The first one was I should have never taken this job.”

The Forum has asked Stenehjem to issue an opinion on whether the executive session the Board of Higher Education held prior to approving the contract buyout was lawful under the state’s open meeting laws. The board cited an exemption for discussions about contract negotiations.