Guest Post: The State Board Of Higher Education Should Apologize To Shirvani


When I read the Minot Daily News June 19th editorial “Shirvani Must Quit Right Now” and other newspaper editorials I find myself “laughing out loud” for the clear message it sends to any chancellor with a vision and an agenda different from the presidents. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised with the location of the paper.

However, when I reflect on the recent actions by the SBHE I find myself coming to an entirely different set of conclusions. Unlike the editorial board of a newspaper, the members of the State Board are appointed for the sole purpose of providing stewardship over the North Dakota system of public higher education. They are expected to honest, fair, and hold to high standards.

We expect them to advocate on behalf of higher education. We expect them to find talented and visionary leaders with the ability to bring about needed change. We expect them to hold everyone accountable for their respective roles and responsibilities. They are certainly not expected to be in anyone’s pocket or play politics with people’s lives.

The three self-important “problem” presidents (NDSU’s Dean Bresciani, UND’s Robert Kelly, MSU’s David Fuller) who, with their legislative allies, have almost single-handedly orchestrated the recent ousting of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, are individuals who are used to blaming everyone else for their problems or shortsightedness. They operate with bloated administrative staffs, insist on having the prerogative to increase tuition and fees in spite of record high budgets, ignore data inconsistencies and routinely forget to disclose complete information about their institutions. At least two of them fly around like celebrities on private planes while the chancellor and his staff drive from campus to campus meeting the “real” people in higher education. Is it their leadership or their ability to bully the Board to do their bidding that earns them these benefits?

One of the main reasons I supported higher education last session was because of Chancellor Shirvani and his vision. He had a real vision for higher education and the right plan (Pathways) to bring us up in the national rankings. The reason some presidents strongly opposed this vision was in large part because of their blotted egos, self-centered attitudes and the fact they would be held accountable for once.

The Board’s decision to oust Chancellor Shirvani and submit once again to the dictates of the presidents is exemplary of the Board’s lack of leadership and absence of any backbone. By its action, this Board has proven to be an absolute disappointment to state tax payers and most importantly the students. In fact, I see no hope for this Board — now or in the future. Not only has it capitulated to the presidents in terms of their evaluations, they have also apologized to them for allowing a negative evaluation to be made by the outgoing chancellor, categorizing anything he might say as retaliatory on his part.

Actually, the language used in the evaluations was neither repugnant nor demeaning; neither was it immoral or unprofessional as certain board members quickly categorized them. If someone lacks vision, it is important to say so. And if someone is myopic (perfect word choice), that, too, needs to be said. The Board should apologize to Chancellor Shirvani for how they have treated him. Simply, we lost the only opportunity we had to have a real unified system.

Even more troubling, the Board appointed one of the presidents to be the fox guarding the hen house. They “own” this Board and they, along with their supportive legislators, will ensure that the future is theirs, not the citizens of North Dakota.