There has been tension between the North Dakota legislature and the university system since the 2011 session, and last week things came to a head last week over changes the State Board of Higher Education and Chancellor Hamid Shirvani have tried to push through to an IT building being built on the University of North Dakota campus. A large chunk of the building’s floor space, intended to consolidate the university system’s IT workers in one place, was to be used for a lavish part-time office for Chancellor Shirvani (complete with cherry-wood paneling, legislative sources tell me) according to changes made to the plans by the university system.
Not only that, but the IT building was to house the university system’s new data center, but now that data center is being put in an older building due to space constraints. “If you remember the new data center – the high priority reason given to the legislature – was supposed to be the top priority but that is being placed in a 40 year old UND plant services building next to the railroad tracks, gas line and a tower precisely were a secure data center should not be next to,” a UND source emailed me over the weekend. “So the ‘new’ data center gets placed in an old building in a bad location while the emphasis was placed on a new office building to collocate the IT workers. Then 24 of them are told not to relocate after to make room for the chancellor.”
UND President Bob Kelley refused to sign off on the changes, pointing out that the legislature appropriated funds for an IT building not an office for the chancellor. Over the weekend SBHE President Duaine Espegard sent out an op/ed belittling the legislature’s concerns over the issue, and that’s only added fuel to the fire.
“The guy has no respect here,” said one House legislator to me about Espegard. Just how little respect may be made quite clear in the coming weeks.
I have heard news from multiple sources that a bill is being readied to call for the resignation of Chancellor Shirvani. The bill will either be in the form of a resolution expressing a lack of confidence in the chancellor, or a specific appropriation added to the university budget for buying the chancellor out. I’m told by multiple legislators that Fargo Senator Tony Grindberg, known to be a close ally of NDSU President Dean Bresciani who is also feuding with Shirvani, is the source of the legislation. I’ve reached out to him to confirm the rumors.
Legislators are also making it clear that they’re willing to hold up three nominations to the State Board of Higher Education made by Governor Jack Dalrymple last year if something isn’t done about Shirvani, something executive branch sources say they’re concerned about.
Earlier this legislative session during a visit to the capitol I was told that Shirvani may not last to the end of the year as chancellor. I had a hard time believing it then, but I believe it now. But it’s worth remembering that a change in faces at the university system isn’t going to fix anything. After decades of problems, we need fundamental changes to how the university system is governed.
And then there’s this sent in by a reader: “If we keep letting UND and NDSU presidents chase chancellors out of town, why even have one?”
That’s a fair point. It’s really, really hard to root for anyone in North Dakota higher education right now.
Update: Per the comments, it’s worth remembering that this wouldn’t be the first vote of “no confidence” for Chancellor Shirvani.