Dorso Column: Shirvani Leaving Means Little Will Change In Higher Ed


Since the wife and I were off to England and Normandy the higher education story has gotten even worse than I expected. The board fires Shirvani for doing what they asked of him because it upset some folks. Those folks being mainly the college presidents who didn’t like the direction Mr. Shirvani was taking things even though the board had originally bought the program.

You can’t remove the board because they are protected in the constitution so you chop off the head of the messenger. At the same time the college presidents send a clear message to the board that they prefer things just as they were or have been for a long time. That in reality means the presidents will do as they please with little interference from the board or the NDUS office. After all the higher education elite know better than anyone how to whip saw the legislature and the NDUS board.

Now Pres. Kelly circles his wagons by getting the vice presidents to disagree with a critical job evaluation by Shirvani. I think anyone could figure out that the VPs would protect their president as he signs their check. If there is one tenet that should not be missed in that, it is no one can speak badly of anything in higher ed without the wagons being circled.

In the past the board could never do anything meaningful unless there was complete agreement amongst the board. The mantra they all had to buy on to was they were advocates for the institutions. Using that line of thought the board was unable to accomplish anything that rocked the boat unless there was a manifest reason to take action. As each and every member had an institution that I’ll characterize as their pet, they didn’t want to incur the wrath of other board members as they advocated for their regional interest.

A review of the actions of the board over the last thirty years will prove my assertions to be correct. This last scenario concerning Mr. Shirvani only goes to drive the point home. I must believe that the voters will see that the present governance model isn’t working. The problem is going to be that the measure that is going to be on the ballot will make the job of finding a new chancellor a very difficult undertaking. Who would want a job where you wouldn’t know who your bosses are until after the election and then possibly the selection process of the three member board is complete.

In the meantime I suspect the board will find away to hire someone who is willing to go along with the present set of circumstances as an interim appointee. The sad part of that is that the college presidents will have the time to make an even larger circle of wagons. Their first intention will be to defeat the ballot measure replacing the present board. Secondly they will have the time to gather the support of alumni and apologists, protecting the status quo.

In the end the only people to get the short end of the stick will be the citizens and students. With all that has gone wrong over the years I would hope the board looks at history and decides to do what is good for North Dakota. Hire someone in the interim who can keep the presidents in line. The board needs to have an interim NDUS head that can manage and hold the institutions to account. Unfettered by the need to hold on to the job and with the total backing of the board maybe there is a person who can hold the thing together until the voters have their say. If that is not the case I fear that the ballot measure has little chance and the next legislative session will be a replay of the last.