Dalrymple Punts On Shirvani Controversy, Opposes Measure To Restructure University System Governance

Whatever your feelings are about higher education in North Dakota, it is undeniable that there is a civil war going on in the university system between Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and a group of university presidents who want him pushed out. And whatever side of that war you’re on – whether you think Shirvani is a reformer who ought to get a chance to implement his policies or a tyrant whose management style is doing more harm than good, the one thing the university system needs is an adult in the room.

The university system is, after all, one of our most expensive branches of government and one not doing all that great of a job in terms of producing sound academic outcomes for our state’s students.

But when asked about the turmoil surrounding Chancellor Shirvani, Governor Jack Dalrymple who appoints the board that hired Shirvani, indicated that he isn’t willing to be a leader on the issue:

Following a legislative session that invested hundreds of millions in higher education and approved a new funding formula for colleges, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he trusted the State Board of Higher Education’s ability to resolve questions hanging over the system’s chancellor.

“The board is fully aware of the situation,” he said of the controversial tenure of Hamid Shirvani, the North Dakota University System’s top administrator since March 2012.

“There’s no question this chancellor is off to a rocky start and has not won the confidence of the people whose confidence he needs,” Dalrymple said. …

Dalrymple, meeting with the Herald editorial board, did not offer a recommendation for what the board should do with Shirvani.

“I have confidence these people will do the right thing and handle it fine,” Dalrymple said.

“He’s quietly wanting to get rid of him I believe,” a legislator emailed me today about the governor. “I think [Lt. Governor] Drew [Wrigley] can’t stand him.”

This legislator also told me that the Board of Higher Education is split evenly, 4-4, on whether or not to keep the chancellor which is something I’ve heard from other sources as well.

There’s a meeting of the SBHE later this week, and it will be an interesting one though nothing related to sacking Chancellor Shirvani is on the agenda. Board members will be discussing a resolution passed by the legislature to dissolve the board and the chancellor position in favor of a different governance structure, and Governor Dalrymple (in his typically non-committal style) indicated that he’s not a fan of that either:

Less clear is what will happen to the university system if voters approve a measure that would replace the State Board of Higher Education with a three-member committee appointed by the governor. Lawmakers approved a resolution to put the question to voters in 2014 during the session.

“I’m not convinced that it’s necessarily better than it is today,” Dalrymple said. “I question whether they would have the independence that people would like them to have.”

Before the measure goes on the ballot in 2014, there is much to learn about the how the new system will work and whether the changes are justified, he said.

“By November 2014, this will all be seeming very much less urgent,” he said.

Cryptic words in terms of what are apparently behind-the-scenes efforts by the executive branch to show Shirvani the door. Also frustrating in terms of Dalrymple’s apparent satisfaction with the higher ed status quo.

Right now our universities are best at handing out phony diplomas and running up costs for the taxpayers and students while producing sub-par graduation rates and academic outcomes. A leader – which Dalrymple is not – would want to see things changed. Dalrymple seems satisfied with giving the university system a big budget increase and hoping the issue goes away.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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