Rep. Bob Skarphol, a supporter of embattled Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and the chairman of the education subsection of the House Appropriations Committee, dropped a bombshell during a meeting of his committee today. He made accusations of a conspiracy among legislators and higher ed officials to undermine and to push Chancellor Hamid Shirvani out.
It was in front of Rep. Skarphol’s committee that, last week, university system employee named Linda Porter accused Shirvani of ordering her to manipulate data.
Today Rep. Skarphol played audio of a recording Porter made of her phone conservation with Shirvani about the data and, at the end, asked his fellow committee members if they heard any evidence of fraud in it.
Here’s the audio of the full committee hearing. It starts with Rep. Skarphol playing the audio in question (more on that, including a clearer copy of the audio, below), and the committee discussion starts about the 15:30 mark.
State Board of Higher Education member Kari Reichert was questioned about Skarphol, and during questioning it’s revealed that Reichert was aware of complaints from Proter but didn’t share those complaints with Shirvani or even some members of the board including President Duaine Espegard.
NDUS employee Joshua Riedy also testified. He was asked by Rep. Dave Munson if he approves of the way Porter handled her issues with Chancellor Shirvani, and he said that he did not. He said that Porter’s actions have placed his department in a “sensitive” situation. Several legislators noted that Porter had copied Riedy on a number of her emails about Shirvani, but when asked if he felt responsibility for what Porter had done he said that she was a “grown woman” and could make her own decisions.
Rep. Streyle references an email sent by Porter to Riedy and Reichert asking for advice on what to say during an appearance on the Joel Heitkamp Show. Riedy said he didn’t recall the email, and didn’t respond. Reichert did respond with advice in an email, though also claimed to the committee that she would have told Porter not to go on the show.
Rep. Streyle said he found it strange that a mid-level university system employee was emailing a board member for advice on what to say during a segment on a political talk show. Rep. Skarphol read an email which indicated that Reichert had referenced “our side” in emails to Porter, and had made phone calls to Porter.
There’s also an exchange between Rep. Skarphol and Rep. Bob Martinson in which Rep. Skarphol accuses Martinson of helping set up Porter’s testimony to blindside Chancellor Shirvani. Skarphols said it was “interesting” that Martinson was looped in on Porter’s emails and requested that Porter be allowed to testify. Skarphol said that Shirvani should have been given a chance to prepare to respond.
Martinson then asked if Skarphol wanted to “get into” conversations about firing university presidents. It was a very tense exchange.
SBHE Members Kirsten Diedrich and Janice Hoffarth didn’t attend the hearing despite being summoned by the committee.
Chancellor Shirvani said he was “shocked” and “dismayed” by the revelations of the hearing.
The entire audio is fascinating, and worth the time to listen to.
The phone call between Chancellor Shirvani and NDUS employee Linda Porter – who, again, accused Shirvani of manipulating data at another recent committee hearing – which was recorded by Porter and what seems to be, per whispering audible at the beginning of the clip, an unidentified male (Rep. Skarphol asked Riedy if it was him, and he denied it, but he admits to having distributed the audio of the call).
At one point Rep. Streyle asks if anyone has asked who it is that is whispering on the phone call. Riedy answers he, as Porter’s supervisor, didn’t have that conversation with her.
I can’t make out what is said during the whispering, but this phone in which Shirvani and Porter have an entirely professional and agreeable discussion is pretty devastating to the claims Porter made about being ordered to manipulate data.
“On March 27, Porter testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee, saying that Shirvani presented misleading information and ‘alternate data’ about school graduation rates to lawmakers in an effort to make North Dakota schools “look bad,” reported the Grand Forks Herald last night.
The Herald also reports that Porter “refused to change her numbers,” but in this phone call Porter recorded she’s 100% agreeable to presenting the data as Shirvani requested.
You have to wonder why the recording was made, and who it was that was whispering at the beginning of the audio. Because it certainly seems as though the intent of the call was to set Shirvani up.
Regardless, Porter’s complaints against Shirvani seem to be entirely discredited, and light is being shone on the conspiracy to push Shirvani out.