Forum Editorial Board Calls For Chancellor, Higher Ed Board President To Resign

In an editorial that contradicts their own scathing report about the machinations among the state’s university presidents to push Chancellor Hamid Shirvani out of his job, the Fargo Forum calls for the resignations of both Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and State Board of Higher Education President Duaine Espegard.

Hamid Shirvani’s brief tenure as North Dakota’s chancellor of higher education has been remarkable for its seemingly endless blunders, arrogant management style and needless controversy, all of which have damaged the state’s 11 campuses and their students. Shirvani was hired last July to unify the public colleges and universities into a more cohesive, centrally managed system. Almost from the start, however, he has sewed [sic] seeds of fear and mistrust, and has alienated important constituencies, including business leaders, legislators and students, whose representatives have passed multiple “no confidence” votes rebuking his leadership.

That the Fargo Forum editorial board is total homer for their hometown university is a given. That NDSU President Dean Bresciani hates Shirvani and has been working to undermine his leadership and bring about his departure is also well-documented (most recently in the Fargo Forum’s own reporting).

So of course the Forum was going to call for Shirvani’s scalp. That’s about as predictable as Democrats criticizing Republicans, and vice versa. They could just as well have let Bresicani write the editorial for them (maybe they did).

The question is, will it happen?

“Shirvani’s gone as soon as [Rep. Bob] Skarphol isn’t around to hold his pants up for him any more,” one insider at the capitol told me weeks ago alluding to the long-time critic of higher education’s support for the chancellor.

This same source tells me the board currently stands as evenly split on whether or not Shirvani should go. With the sheer amount of media and political pressure being brought to bear on the part-time members of the SBHE, it’s hard to see how Shirvani keeps his job at this point.

Which is a shame. We are essentially giving a group of pampered, spendthrift bureaucrats who have turned out university system into a extravagantly expensive monument to mediocre academic outcomes a heckler’s veto over who governs the system as a whole.

If Shirvani leaves it will be the second chancellor pushed out by this sort of a revolt by the university presidents in less than a decade, with former Chancellor Robert Potts leaving his post in 2006 after a showdown with former NDSU President Joe Chapman.

With the SBHE getting a front-row seat to the politics of personal destruction that will be aimed at anyone who dares try to bring a bit of accountability, and unity, to the university system it’s hard to imagine they’ll hire anyone other than a rubber stamp for the presidents to be the next chancellor.

Heck, why not just let the presidents choose the president? That’s the de facto situation now.

The chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education are supposed to provide governance and oversight to the universities, but most of the lawyers and auditors work for the universities not the chancellor or the board, and when the board/chancellor try to govern they’re subjected to vicious political attacks.

If Shirvani goes, it will be a sad day for the students and the taxpayers of North Dakota, but a very good day for the university presidents. And, it seems, the latter group is all that really matters to some.

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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