University system faces new changes

Minot State University President David Fuller predicted that changes to the state university system will likely continue to move forward.

The state Board of Higher Education decided this week to buy out the contract of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who has been in office for less than a year, following months of controversy surrounding both the chancellor and the board.

However, the board has also expressed strong support for its Pathways to Student Success Program, which overhauls the university system.

“I think Pathways will still move forward,” said Fuller. “The way it’s developed to this point, I think the board will (continue to) support it,.”

Among other changes, the Pathways Program sets a higher bar for admission to the state’s four-year colleges and universities and based on high school grade point average, the number of courses completed in core subject areas and ACT composite score. Students who don’t meet the requirements are still eligible to attend two year colleges and then transfer to a four-year college. Pathways also would introduce a new tuition model for the system, intended to create greater fairness and transparency in the system. The proposed changes were announced soon after Shirvani was hired last July, without much discussion with the colleges and universities, said Fuller.

Fuller said university and college leaders are not interested in sticking blindly to the status quo. Minot State, for instance, has implemented a number of aggressive program changes during his own nine years as president at MSU. However, Fuller said good communication and collaboration is important whenever policy changes are necessary. People should be given the opportunity to express their own viewpoints, ask questions and to feel invested in the process. Fuller said he has felt communication has been lacking between the NDUS office and the colleges and universities this year.

Despite that, Fuller said he believes the university system has always been a strong one and that colleges and universities have worked well together. Fuller said he hopes the board will hire a replacement for Shirvani who has strong communication skills, will listen to input and will take the time to build consensus before implementing changes. Many people in the education field have the necessary qualities, he said.

Board members have said that it might take until 2015 to find a full-time replacement for Shirvani. North Dakotans will be asked to vote in 2014 on a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the board of higher education and university system chancellor altogether in favor of a three-member commission appointed by the governor and guided by the legislature.

Fuller said such a change would be unprecedented and he doesn’t know of any other university system in the country run in such a way. He thinks people have been frustrated following months of controversy surrounding the board, which was found by the state attorney general to have violated open meeting laws, and the chancellor, whose management style has been criticized.

“It will pass if we don’t get our act together,” said Fuller.

Fuller will retire after the 2013-2014 school year. This is also the centennial celebration of Minot State University. Fuller is looking forward to a year of celebrating the institution’s successes, following the difficult past few years that marked the flood of 2011 and the turmoil surrounding the board of higher education.